Damara Lopez-Nelson, “twelve (criminal).”

twelve (criminal)

© Gerry Gomez

© Gerry Gomez

by Damara Lopez-Nelson

What to do if you’re stopped by the police

One. Think carefully about your words. You don’t want the police officer to be intimidated by you.

Two. Don’t argue. Ask, in your inside voice, why you’re being questioned, but be careful, lose your temper and you risk losing his too.

Three. Talk loud enough so that others can hear you. If things go bad, at least there will be witnesses.

Four. Don’t Run.

Five. Don’t Argue.

Six. Don’t Touch the Officer.

Seven. Don’t Resist.

Eight. Don’t Complain.

Nine. Remember the Officer’s Name.

Ten. Keep your hands where the police can see them, no sudden movements, keep hands out of pockets.

Eleven. If you are arrested, remain calm. Don’t think about the history that you are now a part of.

Twelve, the final hour the clock hand hits before the cycle repeats. Maybe if you can avoid this hand altogether you won’t have to do time.

Twelve. The hand that got me.

Twelve. The hour my time finally ran out.

Twelve. I wanted to tell him, officer I didn’t mean to break the law. Officer I was running away because I felt unsafe; I lied to you because I was afraid you would send me back.

Twelve. I took my hands out of my hoodie, hoping he would understand I wasn’t like those other brown kids with no place to be but inside his white-walled cells.

Twelve. He took me to Juvenile Hall. Processed me for a crime I didn’t understand. I was inside the system, felt its deep-set rhythm pulsing in my bones, my blood, now irreparably a part of me.

I never thought about how broken the system was until it was me falling through it. How it takes children out of their homes like cancerous parasites removed from society’s veins. Like I am removed, like I am this cancerous parasite.

But you cannot cut out this tumor because kids are not diseases and police are not qualified surgeons. And yet, our communities still find ourselves waking up from the anesthesia, scars riddling our bodies, not knowing what was taken from us.

And in this respect, I’m the lucky one. I’m still here. My charges got dropped, I was sent home. I wasn’t left to be cut out.

But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

Because I know. I know why kids like me aren’t filling up AP classes—cops would rather see us in jail than in school, we don’t deserve the same education as our white peers.

Because I’m always scared of what people might think of me. Does this shirt make me look too gay? Will the sunlight make my skin get too dark? Does this hoodie make me look too dangerous?

It’s easier to stifle justice when the world sees revolutionaries as criminals.

It’s even easier when revolutionaries see themselves as criminals.

So I will learn to not be afraid. I will learn to wear a tie like a medal of honor and not a noose. I will walk head high so that everyone can see me. I will dress feminine and masculine when I want to and not feel afraid. I will wear cut off shorts to show off my skin, bask in the sun and dare it to make my skin darker. Because I will see beauty in brown and courage in rejecting gender roles.

I will not see them as enemies of innocence.

I am the daughter of a once undocumented-immigrant-now-American-citizen, I am not the daughter of shame, I was not born a mistake in a country that didn’t belong to me. This country belongs to me more than it does to any white cop. My ancestors laid their bones to rest here long before his ever set foot. Brown kids like me have been here for centuries. Brown kids like me are ancient. Brown kids like me are sacred.

I have been raised with love injected into my bloodstream, I am not just a history of oppression. I am a history of strength, I am a history of defiance.

So I will put up my hoodie as the fuck you to those that scare me because you will not criminalize my clothing. You will not criminalize my hair, my gender, or my skin. You will not criminalize me because my identity is absolute. It is not attached to your sin, it cannot be sown to your guilt.
You will not criminalize me because I will not let you anymore

Damara Lopez-Nelson is a seventeen-year-old dual enrollment high school student who attends three schools simultaneously, one of them being Santa Barbara City College. She stays involved in her community through social justice work and soon plans on finishing the book she’s been writing for most of her life.

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