On July 19, I wake up, get ready, and then head to Santee to take my summer school courses. Once I arrived, I walk into my classroom and the first thing I notice is that there is a police officer in the back addressing the class. I was confused as to why a police officer was there, but I assumed he was a guest speaker. So I made my way to any open desk and listened as the officer tried to justify a certain police shooting after one of my peers asked for clarification on it.
As I continue to listen, I am able to acknowledge that I’m feeling confused, scared, and my guard was up. The officer went on and stated that shooting the man who was already on the ground was the only way to control the situation. While he was talking, I felt the urge to question the officer on certain statements he was making, but I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I would stop myself because I was honestly scared; scared that I would get removed from class, or that I would make a fool of myself, but most importantly I was scared of the officer’s gun. I feared that he would make up any excuse to have to use it.
Suddenly, pictures and speeches of recent unjustified police shootings flashed through my mind but they were quickly dismissed when I thought to myself, “I am sitting here listening to this officer, I am giving him a big part of my instruction time, the least he can do is also listen to what I had to say.” As I thought this, I turned around and saw my teacher, Mr. Lara, and I assured myself that he wouldn’t let anything that wasn’t necessary go down. So I raised my hand.
After a minute the officer called on me and I asked my question to which he avoided, causing me to ask once again. The officer and I ended up exchanging perspectives and I even shared a personal story with him for what felt like ten maybe 15 minutes. Once we were finished, I didn’t attempt to continue a conversation because the officer was continuously contradicting himself and making poor statements, so I simply nodded my head and listened.
The officer continued to share his beliefs until one of my peers made a comment that revolved around stereotyping. The officer looked around the class and then said that we couldn’t judge all cops by one cop’s mistakes. He stopped there, turned, looked at me, and continued his statement. He said that doing so would be like he, himself, assuming every Hispanic girl he sees from now on with a pink sweater is a “bitch” based on our interaction. I didn’t want to believe that the officer had just insulted me, it wasn’t until every person in the room turned and looked at me with shocked eyes that it hit me, this officer had literally just called me the “b” word.
“I don’t think that was appropriate officer,” said Mr. Lara or something along those lines to which the officer responded to with laughter along with some of the immature boys in my class who found the situation humorous.
I was staring at the officer for a couple of minutes hoping that he’ll apologize but he didn’t, so I turned around facing the board embarrassed and mad. It was hard for me to keep calm because this wasn’t someone my age that had just disrespected me; this was a grown man, a police officer who had unapologetically called me the “b” word.
Mr. Lara politely asked the officer to leave and once he was out the door, the class began to express their feelings out loud but I was quiet because I was bothered, shocked, and sort of sad but mostly confused. My teacher approached me and said “Maria I’m sorry that happened, I immediately asked him to leave once he made that comment. I’m sorry mija.”
“No, you don’t need to apologize,” I said as I felt embarrassed to look my teacher in the eye. “I was actually expecting him to apologize but that’s okay.”
We went into circle next and discussed the situation that had just happened but I couldn’t participate as much as I usually like to because I had so many things running through my mind. The day went on and I noticed that what happened wasn’t as much of a big deal to me as it was for my peers; I even felt at some point that they were overreacting.
Throughout second period, I had an encounter with Mr. Elson, an adult at Santee, he is the current AP for summer school. He asked me how I was after what had happened and I finally found myself expressing what I truly felt.
“Mister it’s really not that serious, I’m used to it, I’m usually called that for being loud and outspoken, it’s okay,” I said.
Mr. Elson stopped typing, looked up at me and said “You should never ever get accustomed to anyone calling you a [b-word] let alone a male because you are not one and the fact that you’re outspoken and can challenge someone’s thoughts does not mean you’re a [b-word], it means you’re brave.”
I looked around the office avoiding eye contact because I wanted to cry. He was right, and Lara was right; what happened was not okay and I felt ashamed for ever thinking it was nothing. Although a part of me knew why I wanted to brush it off and not address it, it was because I didn’t want to mysteriously die next week, I didn’t want my mom to have to see a video of me being shot to death, I didn’t want my classmates making posters about me preaching that I did no wrong, it was because I was scared of what would happened if I spoke up again. I mean, the first time I was called the “b” word, would the second time assure a bullet through my chest followed by the “I felt threatened” or “she looked suspicious” excuse? I was scared of retaliation. I repeat, I was scared but not now, not anymore because I understand now that the officer had disrespected me and that was never okay.
Overall, I feel sympathy for the officer because he didn’t call me the “b” word based on its general meaning, no, he called me that because I didn’t shut up and agree with him like some students did.
He called me the “b” word because I questioned his thoughts, because I challenged his statements, because I used my voice, because I was able to disagree without being obscene but most importantly, I was called the “b” word because I wasn’t stupid. He was bothered by my ability to stand my ground and back my statements up with facts. He was so bothered that he had to turn to an insult to shut me up. But it didn’t work and it never will because I’ll continue to be me, the loud, outspoken girl who is not one to mess with, the one everyone sees as fearless not knowing that fear accompanies her everywhere but the voice within her is bigger and louder and always wins.