Ms. Jannie’s Song
On December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, and other charges. Although little media attention has been given to this case, it is important to recognize the brave response of the victims, like Jannie Ligons. In this post, Rev. Jennifer Bailey reflects on how these events mirror the sexual exploitation of black women throughout history. Bailey shows that there have always been women like Ms. Jannie to resist the mistreatment.
By Rev. Jennifer Bailey
I come from a people who are familiar with the brutal lash of injustice. I am the direct descendant of survivors of the Middle Passage. My brown skin and course hair holds within them the songs of those who knew God by different names. I learned God’s name from the elders of my church. They called my God “way maker” and “deliverer”. They understood the tension between God’s power and presence as existing within a long arch of history and that while God may not come when you want, God shows up on time. They were women with deeply creased skin that was the same color as mine. Women like Jannie Ligons.
They understood the tension between God’s power and presence as existing within a long arch of history and that while God may not come when you want, God shows up on time.
On June 18, 2014, Jannie Ligons was driving home after an evening of playing cards and dominoes. The grandmother often spent her Fridays nights like this—relaxing after work with her friends after long shifts at the daycare center where she worked. Her regular route took her through the Eastside of Oklahoma City. To walk the streets of the Eastside is to walk in the shadows of footprints left by women and men who were exiles of the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and leaders in the 1958 Oklahoma City desegregation sit-ins. Today the once thriving mixed income community is a ghost of its former self. An unforeseen consequence of the victory of integration was a black middle class exodus into newer, whiter, frontiers. Those left behind faced thirty years of municipal disinvestment that eventually led the Oklahoma City Council to declare the area blighted in 2014.
Ms. Ligons did not know that her life was about to be inalterably changed. That night she was stopped by an Oklahoma City police officer named Daniel Holtzclaw. During their encounter Holtzclaw sexually assaulted Ms. Ligons under the threat of violence or imprisonment. Rape culture teaches victims to be silent in the face of their trauma. Ms. Ligons, however, refused to let her story go unheard, "I didn't do anything wrong," Ms. Ligons would say, "So all I can say is, I was innocent and he just picked the wrong lady to stop that night.”
For as long as black women have been the shackled by the chains of sexual exploitation, there have been voices like Ms. Ligons speaking out in resistance.
For as long as black women have been shackled by the chains of sexual exploitation, there have been voices like Ms. Ligons speaking out in resistance. Ms. Ligons' complaint launched an investigation that eventually surfaced 13 of Mr. Holtzclaw’s victims. All poor. All black. Some of the women had criminal records while others struggled with addiction to narcotics. In short, women that Daniel Holtzclaw believed could be exploited with little consequence.
On December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 of 36 counts ranging from rape to sexual battery. The next day, Jannie Ligons stood at a press conference and publically recounted the events of that fateful June evening for the first time. Other survivors of Holtzclaw’s horrors surrounded her. After greeting the gathered crowd of media affiliates, she gave praise and thanks her God for letting her live and tell her story.
Rev. Jennifer Bailey is Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network. She regularly blogs for Sojourners and the Huffington Post. You can follow her on Twitter @revjenbailey.