One spring day in 9th grade, I was walking home after school, mostly looking down at the sidewalk, longing to throw myself into bed after a long day. I had only gotten about a block away from school when seemingly out of nowhere, I was confronted by two girls, their faces full of anger.
I had seen these girls before, but I didn’t know them. I moved to New York from the Dominican Republic about a year earlier. I had not made many friends and I was unhappy and missed my life there. For the most part, I didn’t care what others did or said about me at school, making comments about my shorter height, or other features of my body, like my skin color, or my weight. I understood that most adolescents are immature, some seek attention, some seek to feel better than others. But this time the antagonism was impossible to ignore; these girls made me feel less than and desperate.
The girls blocked my path. I tried to get out of the growing circle of people but the other girl pushed me back. She acted like the taller girl’s bodyguard, never leaving her side.
“Who are you girls? What’s going on?” I asked, trying to sound brave.
They did not respond. I kept asking, “What’s going on?” They didn’t answer. I wanted to talk calmly, but I couldn’t. I felt like my voice was going to stop coming out. I was so nervous that my voice was shaking.
Suddenly the tall one yelled, “Shut up!”
Cornered by Two Bullies
I tried to keep walking, but the crowd blocked me. More students who were passing started to watch. The same girl pushed me back into the circle of people. I felt locked up; I was cornered.
I heard kids encouraging us to fight, yelling, “DO IT!” “She’s talking too much, just do it!” It sounded like they were witnessing a cockfight. The only thing I could do was stand there and try to look brave.
Then, the tall one grabbed my head and tried to knock me down. I tried to pull her hand away and fight back but her strength was greater. My heart was jumping out of my chest. I had never felt more scared. When I had no more strength to fight back, I just gave up.
There came a time when I no longer felt the blows of my head against the sidewalk. While she hit me on the ground, more boys came circling around us. It was a good show for them. Every time I had the opportunity to look up I only saw the phones recording, their faces laughing, and the boys’ eyes full of evil.
Help Finally Arrives
Finally, I was relieved to see two policemen come through the crowd. And just like that, they pulled her off me. Interestingly, she didn’t struggle, as if she was satisfied with what she’d done.
Even though I felt relief, I didn’t have the strength to get up and my tears didn’t stop falling. I felt ashamed, I just wanted the earth to swallow me. One of the officers helped me up and told me to go back to school. The other began walking with me to be sure I got there safely.
“Are you OK? Do you want to take a moment to recover?” he asked while we were walking.
I felt dizzy and wanted to scream. I think the officer knew how I felt and he started making conversation. He asked me which grade I was in, and if I wanted to go to college. This helped me forget what had happened for a moment and let me be a student, not a victim.
When I got to school, the first thing I did was call my mom, my voice breaking. I couldn’t explain, so all I said was, “I need you to pick me up.” The nurse treated my head wound and another on my arm. When my mom arrived, she took me to the hospital where they closed the head wound. After a few days my hair began to fall out in abundance, and this lasted for a month. I think this was from the girl pulling on my hair while she was punching me.
On the way home, I explained to my mom what happened. It was difficult because she always talks about how dangerous New York is and how scared she is for me. When we got home, she told my family, my grandmother, my two uncles, and my cousin. They were giving me all the attention, which I did not like. I would have preferred they act as they always do.
I was afraid of facing my classmates’ teasing, so I missed the next week of school. Every day I woke up wishing it was all a bad nightmare, but it was more than real. The video of the fight became so viral that it reached the eyes of my family. I couldn’t look at them without breaking down. I felt depressed; I couldn’t even get out of bed.
My dad called me from the DR so many times that I had to turn off my phone. After a few days I finally picked up. As soon as I heard his voice I started crying. “I saw the video mija,” he said. When he heard me crying he said, “I love you. I know this was difficult. Remember you can always come back.”
But I did not want to go back. My dad and my sisters live in the DR and my goal is to bring them here to the United States so that they have the same opportunity as me to have a better future. To do this I have to study hard, and earn a lot of money. I decided that staying in my bed was not going to help me get over it and move on.
Back to School
When I returned to school I was teased because a lot of kids had seen the video.
In my art class for example, one boy laughed and said, “They gave you a big beating. You don’t even know how to defend yourself.” I tried to ignore it, but these comments affected me.
A few days later, I was called to the office where my mother was waiting for me, as were the girls with their mothers, the assistant principal and two counselors.
I began to tell what happened. “It’s a lie,” the girl who beat me interrupted. She denied some of the things I had said, and when she was finished speaking, the assistant principal said, “Each of you has three days of suspension.”
I couldn’t believe I had been suspended too. Why did they punish me? For being beaten up? The idea of handing out the same punishment to all of us made no sense, but I had no choice but to accept it.
And then of course I saw the girls again at school. Various emotions entered me, such as hatred, indignation, and sadness. But I got over it after a few weeks. I realized that they were not worth making me feel this way. Then the one who beat me up left the school, and that made things easier. The girl who I called the bodyguard actually apologized and asked me to forgive her. She even started hanging out with my friend group. I did forgive her but I still couldn’t help remembering the assault when I looked at her.
Grateful to the Police Officers
If it hadn’t been for those officers, I don’t know what would have happened to me. My dad is also a policeman and I admire him for his work. Still, I hadn’t understood how important his job was until that day, and it makes me sad to see people feeling contempt for policemen because of some bad ones.
Derek Michael Chauvin, the former police officer who was convicted of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis committed a murderous hate crime. Like other bad policemen who commit brutality against people of color, this puts other officers in a bad light. There are many people of color doubting whether the job of the police is to protect them or hurt them.
But there are many officers who only try to do good. They risk their lives for us. Thanks to the officers who helped me, I found my purpose: I decided that I want to be a law enforcement detective so that I can contribute to the community and solve injustices just like the one that happened to me.
On the way home from school each day, I’d see two officers patrolling the subway platform and they always greeted me. One day they told me about the Explorer Program, an organization that introduces young men and women to a career in law enforcement. They asked if I was interested. Of course I was.
Twice a week I meet with them to receive law enforcement training, like radio communication, first aid, and CPR. I participate in community service like Operation Santa, where we distribute gifts to kids for Christmas. We learn self-discipline, and respect for others. It is also my new support system; I know that if something is going on in my life, I can count on them to talk about it.
Three years ago, I wrote this to myself and I still live by it: “Today I know that no matter how many stumbles I have on the way to triumph, the most important thing for me is to grow as a person, in my own way, regardless how others judge me. I am going to grow up and graduate from college, I am going to get my degree and become one of the best female detectives. I will excel, without letting others get in my way, and use my story to help others.”
And now, I’m on my own way to doing this. I am the first in my family to go to university in the United States. I graduated from high school with an advanced diploma. I was accepted to John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, where I plan to major in criminal justice.