Former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw has been sentenced to 263 years in prison. Holtzclaw was arrested, tried, and convicted last year on 18 of 36 counts including first-degree rape, sexual battery, indecent exposure, stalking, forcible oral sodomy, and burglary. Holtzclaw took full advantage of several of our societies’ pitfalls: Our unwillingness to reign in our law enforcement officers, our inability to equalize our justice system, our continued confusion on what rape means, the decision to treat addiction as a crime rather than a health issue, and a lack of value placed on women and black lives. He used all those failings we can’t seem to tackle and victimized women ranging in age from 17 to 57, counting on the way society would view the victims rather than taking measure of the man accused.
Many found some comfort, and others glee, in his tearful response in being found guilty last month.
But that video said something else to me. That response told me that even after having to face his accusers in a court of law he still did not truly understand the depth and horror of his crimes until the moment when a court told him that his behavior was unacceptable. Until that moment, he thought that the system he had used to victimize and brutalize would always protect him. Not until that moment did it dawn on him that he could actually be on the “other” side. Until then, he never knew what it felt like to be helpless and out of options.
This country needs more sentencing on this level; when the people who take on the responsibility of protecting American citizens not only betray the trust given to them, and use their positions of power to enact the selfsame crimes that they are charged with counteracting, they MUST be held accountable at a higher cost. When LEOs are “forced” into early retirement, given severance packages and new identities, and allowed to live out the rest of their lives without ever having to face any true measure of justice when they kill and abuse citizens, there is no incentive for anything to change.
We must demand that there be higher mandatory sentencing for police officers who break the law. We need to demand that police officers face higher mandatory fines for their crimes. We also need to do all that we can to stop these types of inept officers, filled with fear and Napoleon complexes, from ever being able to join the force in the first place. We need to frequently monitor the type of training officers receive when joining the force.
I can only hope that the sentencing for Michael T. Slager follows suit.