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Activists push for change ahead of Holtzclaw sentencing

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OKLAHOMA CITY - About a dozen members of Oklahoma's African-American community praised a former police officer's conviction but pushed city leaders for change at a council meeting Tuesday.

A handful of people spoke ahead of Daniel Holtzclaw's sentencing later this week.

"What are we going to do as a city to move on and heal these feelings that persist?" said Connie Johnson, a former state senator. "I think there could be some more laws that could be culturally sensitive made by people who were more culturally competent to change what's going on."

Last year, a jury convicted Holtzclaw on 18 counts related to sex crimes, including raping several women while on duty.

He's due to be sentenced Thursday.

"It's one thing to get a conviction. It's another thing to be sentenced," said Garland Pruitt, Oklahoma City's branch president of the NAACP. "We're anticipating him not being able to get back on dirt but, until that happens, we have to be in suspense."

Speakers at the council meeting pushed for the city to create an oversight review board to work with the police department.

Others said too many Oklahoma women are incarcerated or are victims of domestic violence.

"I don't think the council gets it," said Johnson. "I think we have to say over and over what we mean and what we see will solve this problem."

City leaders said Tuesday, they want to listen.

"We've always had an ongoing dialogue with the minority community," said Chief Bill Citty. "What the community feels and this distrust they feel is real. I don't dismiss that. We have to work to earn that trust, whether it's real or perceived or whatever."

Citty says he's confident the Holtzclaw case will foster a stronger relationship between the police department and minority communities, adding the former officer's conviction is a significant help.

"It would probably be at a different level if they didn't feel like the system worked properly and in case the system did," he said. "If you would have told me that I had a serial rapist in my department before this began, I would have told you that would never happen. I think it's important to hear the concerns of the community."

Fourth Ward Councilman Pete White told the activists it's important to begin by focusing on the positives.

"I think we should all take a great deal of satisfaction in knowing the system worked," he said. "I think we should be congratulating the district attorney for taking it forward and celebrating the fact that the system worked."

The activists plan to meet with city leaders next week at a summit.