An open letter to Daniel Holtzclaw, and those like him

The whole world saw your face crumple as the verdict was read.

Did you think, up until that moment, that the Thin Blue Line would protect you? Not even thirty and your life is done. 

Back when the story started to come out, despite the media labeling you as “white”, I wondered, looking at your face, whether you had significant East Asian or Pacific Islander heritage. It’s not always apparent, but…you look like people I know. Was it rough, growing up hafu in Oklahoma in the ’90s? Did you learn to assimilate out of a desire to escape racism, or were you raised by parents who thought that Model Minority would be sufficient to protect you? Wikipedia says your father was also a cop. Maybe that was shield enough (and maybe I intend that pun).

Did you learn to be that sort of racist jerk naturally from your buddies, or did you learn to try to out racist all of them to show that you’re not one of “them”, to try to perform acts of racism as (maybe desperate) proof of your whiteness? Did you learn it playing football? Did you do it because you didn’t make the NFL draft the way you’d dreamed? (Pity, that. A bunch of Asian Americans would have been thrilled.) Did you learn it on the police force?

But you know, I don’t care. I don’t care why, because you played the role of The Man, devastating the lives of dozens of women that we know of. Targeted because they looked powerless to you. Easy to identify because of a racist environment where Black women can be presumed not to have the clout to speak up against police abuse. Maybe an “understandable” assumption in a time when we’ve seen so many Black and brown lives destroyed.

You made a choice. A stupid, evil choice. We all know why it was evil. I want to underline why it was stupid. (My children have been educated by their school and their peers to believe that stupid is one of the worst epithets ever, by the way. They are young. They’re Asian on their mom’s side, like you—but I hope that’s the only way they’re like you.)

The latest reports claim that you mouthed, “How could you do this?” to the all-white jury. I saw your face and I wonder if that was the moment you finally learned that there’s no way for you to assimilate enough to be Really White Enough. Maybe I was lucky—I learned that in my teens. I didn’t get The Talk that Black kids in white suburbia get, about how it’s stupid and dangerous to let your white friends talk you into doing questionable crap, because when it comes down to it, your white friends will get off with a slap on the wrist, but your brown ass will end up with the full measure. Maybe where you grew up your white cop dad was enough, for the kinds of things you did when you were growing up. Or maybe you thought once you had that badge and that gun that you’d made it.

I’m guessing that your mother is like mine. Raised in a land where the police are viewed as friendly helpers. Maybe she doesn’t quite understand how racism works. But again, I don’t care.

There’s a current myth, especially around where you grew up, that all cops are heroes. I’ve never thought that, but you could have been a hero by my definition. You had a chance to be the sort of cop everyone hopes for. The one that stands up to be the good guy. But you made a choice, to be abusive, over and over again.

…and you did it thinking you were invulnerable.

The problem with being part of the Model Minority, and not the profiled Other that is disproportionately incarcerated, is that there aren’t many like you behind bars, and it’s a place where all the stresses of our culture intensify under pressure. They say cops don’t do well in prison. They say people who don’t have a strong buddy system around them don’t survive. They say other things, too, but I’m not going to repeat those. I don’t believe in corrective rape for anyone.

But man. That was stupid on top of evil. Don’t make bargains with the Devil, especially ones that involve destroying other people’s lives. Especially when in the end, you smell like sacrificial meat, too. And now you’re an eventual Life Lesson for all the kids of mixed heritage I know, who think they’re white-passing. Don’t count on it. Especially when you’re doing things you shouldn’t be doing regardless.