The following week, New York and several other major cities were teeming with protesters. They were appalled that a group of white police officers had managed to escape any charges that could have been levied by another grand jury in connection with the choking death of Eric Garner.
Then came Walter Scott. A bystander captured cellphone footage of a white North Charleston, S.C., police officer fatally shooting the unarmed and fleeing black man in the back after a traffic stop. That officer is facing criminal charges.
Only days later came Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray was fatally injured during what prosecutors are arguing in a Baltimore court right now was a fundamentally unjustified and illegal arrest. The list does go on and on and on.
But there is one aspect of this story that has not been so often told. On the nation's streets, the same police departments that have been accused of, at the very least, policing communities of color in ways that seem questionable and at worst structuring their work to maximize profit and pain, have not focused solely on black men.
In January, when Oklahoma City's police chief made the decision to fire one of his officers, he said the allegations against the cop detailed the "greatest abuse of police authority" in the police chief's 37-year career. What did this now-former cop, Daniel Holtzclaw, allegedly do?
He has been accused of leveraging the power of his badge and police databases to force women to engage in various sexual acts. Holtzclaw allegedly targeted women who are not the "type" readily believed if they report an alleged rape or some sort of abuse — particularly at the hands of an officer. Some of the women had been previously arrested or had pending warrants for their arrest. The victims were all black, poor or both.
Almost all of the women told investigators they were afraid they would wind up charged with a crime, in jail or even dead if they resisted Holtzclaw or reported what he allegedly did. And as a police officer, Holtzclaw knew where each of them lived or could easily find out. The women also knew he had access to a gun. Some of the women were even allegedly assaulted while Holtzclaw was on duty. But then, Holtzclaw allegedly targeted a grandmother who reported him to police.
And if all of this is not troubling enough, read this on just how many police officers have been removed from their jobs because of similar allegations. Then read this on the way that New York's much-talked-about "Stop and Frisk" policy affected the lives of women in neighborhoods where residents were most frequently stopped and frisked.
Now, back to Oklahoma. Holtzclaw has since been charged with 36 counts of counts of rape, sexual battery, oral sodomy and indecent exposure. Fellow officers did the hard work of first listening to one woman, then another who reported the alleged crimes. Then those officers corroborated the women's stories with GPS, DNA and other evidence that you have to read — here — to believe. This lead them to other alleged victims. Without their work, there could be no trial, no jury deliberations expected to begin this week.
So why then has this story of terror allegedly brought on by one officer but ended by others remained so little-known? Why has it remained largely the stuff of headlines in the local Oklahoma City paper (which has followed it closely), in unabashedly left-leaning information outlets and in publications that focus on women (see here, here, here, here and here)? Why doesn't everyone know the name Daniel Holtzclaw right now, as a jury prepares to deliberate his fate?
It's hard to say with certainty. The media's pattern of paying scant attention to people deemed unimportant until one big story or one bold reporter delivers a heck of a fact-checked tale seems one very likely culprit. Some level of cultural squeamishness or denial about sexual violence is certainly another. And another still might be this: There's scarcely a bit of shame-assuaging news to be found here.
The jury that will hear closing arguments Monday and begin considering Hotzclaw's fate this week is also all white.
Yes, you read that correctly. In a 2015 Oklahoma City case involving alleged rape, police abuses of power and strategic victim targeting, there is an all-white, majority-male jury considering the case.
For those who wonder why that matters, know this: There is ample and solid evidence that white juries or even overwhelmingly white juries are significantly less likely to convict or harshly punish non-black defendants when they are accused of harming or killing a black person. This is how Samuel R. Sommers, a Tufts University social psychologist, explained it to me in the hours before a nearly all-white jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013.
They tend to acquit or offer lighter sentences, deliberate for shorter periods of time, cling to a goal of reaching consensus and have a more difficult time empathizing with black victims. All-white juries have also been a common denominator in cases where defendants have later been set free due to a wrongful conviction, according to years of social science research.
"In this country, I think the average American believes that verdicts are decided based on the facts, the evidence, the law alone," said Sommers, who studies race and the way that all-white juries respond to cases involving black victims.
Individual juries sometimes manage that feat," Sommers said. "But in the aggregate, study after study has shown that we all tend to have an easier time empathizing with people with whom we have an immediate connection, the folks that we can look at and imagine ourselves in their shoes. That's just not something that the average white juror does well when there's a black victim and a nonblack defendant.
That pattern is part of the reason a group of black female public housing residents in Baltimore banded together in September and sued the area housing authority only after what they say was years and years of abuse. They say that public housing maintenance workers allegedly used the pressing need for critical apartment repairs — we are talking toilets and heat here — to force poor and again black female tenants of public housing to engage in various sexual acts. The women say that when they complained to public housing officials, their complaints were ignored or dismissed. For these women, calling a private plumber or HVAC tech was not an option. Neither was having their children freeze though a Baltimore winter.
Here's the thing. Power can always be abused. But in America, precisely how one can be mistreated, how likely it is to happen and whether one will be believed remains connected to who one is. Only some of us have the luxury of regarding mere stories about those experiences as torturous.