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Empathy for strangers

-a police brutality survivor pleads her community to listen-

· FTP Media Lab,FU4JNV,WSTOF Exhibit

Cover photo: Cristina Paulos shares her story at an event highlighting testimonies of police violence in August of 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera

My name is Cristina Paulos, I am an artist, teacher, and commercial illustrator. I’m also a police violence survivor and mental illness sufferer. I am a professionally taught artist and received my BFA degree from Calarts where my focus was animation and puppet art. My art, which is a mixture of cartoon and human portraiture, has guided me into healing, the unconscious, and the journey of expression of pain and hurt. My goal as an artist is to bring light to emotionally driven, and exploration of those aspects of self that makes us HUMAN.

As a police violence survivor, I know firsthand that we are not heard and we do not get justice. This is why many of our stories will never find mainstream media coverage. I am speaking up because I know the training and tactics of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department are dangerous to our communities. My assault caused me tremendous pain and suffering the last ten years. It not only left me in financial ruins, but I also bear lifelong physical and psychological scars. I fight for my voice to be heard and to demand better systems and institutions that govern us. The city of Las Vegas isn’t run by a just legal system. Police and corporations are granted special privileges whereas the people are completely left out.

In August of 2011, I was in a traffic accident at the Palms Casino parking lot. I was not myself after the accident and I was in a panicked state. Medical reports showed I was dehydrated which can cause heightened delusions. I had absolutely no drugs and alcohol in my system. I believe I was experiencing allergies from IUD medication withdrawal, affecting my mind and body that day. My car was completely totaled and the airbag deployed, striking my head with a very strong force. I believe the security and the LVMPD did not take in any of these elements in consideration. The police approached me aggressively, accusing me of stealing my own vehicle and being on drugs and alcohol. After the confrontation I was thrown on to the ground and forcefully held down by police and security on the burning asphalt, receiving third degree burns on my left leg, thigh and left side of my chest. The burns were so bad, I had to get skin-graft surgery. Today I’m a burn survivor with scars for the rest of my life with over $100,000 in medical debt and live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor’s guilt.

I was written a bogus ticket stating that the police checked my blood and I had drugs and alcohol in my system. This was a result of the most lazy and corrupt police reporting. I later had to fight these charges in court - they were dropped. I was still reprimanded for being in a car accident: I received a parking ticket stating I was illegally parked since after my accident my car blocked traffic. Today I still have a false criminal record and it continues to haunt me.

My justice was never heard, my first lawsuit was killed before it saw a day in court.

I know firsthand how fearful cops are. I feel the cops lack a rational thinking process, and lack confidence to make quick decisions. I use the words “fearful” because I was an unarmed person and also experienced a traumatic car accident. This fear mixed with the corruption of power is very dangerous to my Vegas Strong community! We need our police to move forward together with our community not against us. I wish the LVMPD would keep everyone safe during fearful times.

After the incident I wanted to make a difference. I became a mental health advocate and spoke to police academy students about how to approach emergencies with mental illness sufferers, trauma survivors and people living with disabilities. I want the police to “unlearn” fear and aggressive tactics. Police are employed by the communities they serve in and community members should have a say in how they are trained.

My life has changed due to a quick decision police made to unleash violence on a hot, summer day. I’m a victim of police violence, a victim to a system that doesn’t give justice. I’m lucky to be alive, when many others in my community are not here to speak and get their justice. I was also victimized when in the care of mental health institutions after the incident. Being at these facilities led me onto a path of over-medication and I endured sexual assaults while under their care. After my experiences I looked into local organizations like Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas and My Scars Are Beautiful. These two groups made me aware of how prevalent police brutality is. These local groups help me with my healing and my survivor guilt. I will continue to engage in local organizations to find the motivation and guidance I need to fight for systemic change.

Thank you for hearing my story. It hasn’t been easy for me to have the courage to speak up. I hope you can look at police violence victims stories with compassion.

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