Oklahoma is known for tornados, national disasters and fits every stereotype imaginable for a backdrop of racial injustice. Until the Oklahoma Thunder became a part of the city’s heartbeat, the state capital of one of the most overlooked states in the country was known mostly for the Oklahoma City bombing. After a terrorist set off a bomb in a federal building killing over a hundred people senselessly, the first fingers pointed were at a sketch of a faceless African American. Shortly thereafter it was determined the culprit was a young White man named Timothy McVey. The state was shocked, perhaps the nation even, but Oklahoma recently made national news with a case almost as a shocking from a different dimension. Earlier this year, one black woman in her late 50s reported being sexually abused by a young Oklahoma City police officer. After that, more women came forward. In the end, 13 middle-aged Black women came forward to accuse biracial cop Daniel Holtzclaw (his father is White, his mother Asian) of various forms of sexual abuse. Anchorwoman Carmen Coffee was intrigued with the story and set out to document the case in a piece titled “The OKC 13.”
“I thought this case offers a blueprint on how we as citizens can properly hold our law enforcement accountable. OKC didn’t destroy their communities or hurt innocent victims, instead they allowed justice to be served. Once the sentence is read on Jan. 21, we’ll see exactly how the story ends, but it’s a great start,” Coffee says.
Officer Holtzclaw faced 36 counts and was found guilty on 18. The former officer cried openly in the courtroom and rocked in his chair as the verdict was being read. Jurors deliberated for more than 40 hours over four days.
“When I first heard what happened, I didn’t believe it. The way the story was broke, it seemed like some crackhead females were accusing an officer of sexual assault. I admit I was guilty of making an assumption about the victims,” OKC native Leron Rogers says.
The media portrayed Holtzclaw as a handsome, decorated officer who was being attacked by a group of habitual offenders. It was easy to see why Rodgers and many others found it hard to believe the women’s stories. Not only were the women supposedly much older than Holtzclaw — most were over 50 — but they were women who’d been in trouble with the law. It wasn’t until it was reported that a 57-year-old grandmother with no prior convictions was stopped and abused by Holtzclaw on her way home from playing dominoes, that the case began to draw attention and the city started taking the allegations against Holtzclaw seriously.
Coffee hopes that the documentary will provoke a discussion around both sexual assault and racism along with the obvious message of police brutality and the correct way for a city to handle this type of infraction.
“The story affects me personally — I am from OKC — this is my hometown. The women who were affected were me. I don’t believe healing can take place unless you involve those that were affected. We need to use this as a moment to learn and a moment to make adjustments and a moment to heal. As an African American woman, if I sit back and don’t do anything, I’m not a part of change or healing, which makes me a part of the problem. I do hope that it would be a blueprint for the nation; to effect change there has to be a commitment,” Coffee says.