I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, an urban area surrounded by racial diversity. However, in high school, I never realized the lack of racial justice in my everyday life and the profound cracks within our criminal justice system. As a student who regularly kept up with current events, the extent of systemic racism became undeniable, especially in my junior year of high school.
On November 22nd 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by police officers at a city park in Cleveland. Despite the fact that there were multiple other instances of police brutality against people of color, this incident impacted me the most. As a young teen at the time, I could not even begin to imagine the pain, anger, and sorrow that not just the Rice family, but the entire community had experienced.
The fact that such an unconstitutional, despicable, and vile act occurred against a child completely disturbed me and opened my naïve eyes to the lack of justice within the criminal justice system. Although I do not experience what it’s like to be a black or brown person in the face of the law, as an Armenian-American, I recognized that I was a racial minority in this country. At that point I made the realization that our criminal justice system is not only fueled by systemic racism, but it is entirely and fundamentally broken.
The following year, I participated in a competitive civics program called We the People. The program requires students to participate in simulated congressional hearings to “testify” to judges about principles in the Constitution and their relevance to historical and contemporary issues. After my team and I represented California in D.C. for the national competition, I not only acquired a wide array of information about our government, but I also noticed the immense gap between the ideals of our Constitution and the current-day reality.
Now, as a pre-law student, political science major, and someone who is incredibly passionate about defending constitutional rights, my time working at the ACLU has lit a spark within me to contribute to work towards preserving, defending, and advancing civil liberties. I plan to pursue a career in constitutional and civil rights law to fight for racial justice and criminal justice reform. Recently, the publicized back-to-back incidents of police brutality and the subsequent lack of accountability from our criminal justice system have left me with a heavy, disheartening feeling of hopelessness. Despite the troubling reality, I will continue to use my tenacity and drive, along with the ACLU and my future endeavors, to inspire individuals to use their voice to create substantive change.