I was born in Hollywood, California in 1994. I am an Armenian descendant of two immigrant parents–my father and his family moved to the United States from former Soviet Union rule in Armenia, and my mother came from Beirut, Lebanon during the late 70s. Although I grew up living in Los Angeles, life for me was quite different from the average American-born citizen. Starting from my adolescent years in an Armenian private school to when I transitioned to an American public school, I realized early on that I live in a diverse country where even little kids experience the cruelty of stereotypes and endure racism from peers.
My family moved near Glendale, California, where there is a large Armenian community. There I encountered police harassment because of ethnic identity. When I was fourteen, I witnessed my father being aggressively approached by police officers for a traffic mistake. Seeing police being belligerent towards my dad angered me and made me question law enforcement. My father later told me this had happened to him before. I felt powerless that my family was subjected to this treatment by the police, and that this had happened more than once. I was frustrated that I could not take any action to protect myself or my family from police harassment.
Instead of feeling hopeless, however, this anger inspired me to do some research about my legal rights as a citizen. I was fueled by this inspiration from a young age. Growing up I always made sure I knew my rights. It all came into focus on December 30, 2013. I was pulled over for speeding. The officer shined his car’s flashlight in my mirror, and the blinding light reflected straight into my face and hindered my vision. I asked the officer to turn it off, but he took another flashlight out and shined it directly in my face making it even harder to see. He accused me of being drunk and on drugs. I was not. I asked him to DUI test me to prove it. He took me out of my car, put me in the back of his police car, and then walked towards my car to search it. Because I had researched my rights, I knew that he was not allowed to search my car without consent or a warrant, neither of which he had. From inside the police car I kept telling him to stop the illegal search, I knew my rights and I made sure he knew I knew. He seemed angered and even called back up.
The officer and his backup partner DUI tested me and the test proved I was sober. Still, the officers yelled at me and spoke to me rudely. Pedestrians walking by stared at me and I felt humiliated. But, in the end the officers had to let me go. I felt good that I had utilized my knowledge of the law and they were not able to take advantage of me. For the first time in my life, I felt superior in a confrontation with a police officer and the feeling was remarkable.
Since that day, I’ve been passionate about learning everything I can about police who abuse their authority and how I can help victims of this abuse. I realized that the only way I could prevent this injustice is through the legal process. So, I worked hard in school, got good grades, joined extracurricular activities, and eventually did well enough to be accepted to the University of California, Berkeley. Getting into such an accomplished school was the greatest gift to me, especially coming from a family where my father finished high school without a diploma and my mother only received a high school education.
I have found education to be a powerful tool. I plan to utilize every ounce of knowledge I gain to pursue a career in the legal field and hopefully one day correct the unbalanced power struggle citizens face against law enforcement. I write this story not to inspire aggression or hate towards law enforcement, but to inform individuals about the power knowledge can have in our lives.