On Friday afternoon, Rashad finishes ROTC practice and eagerly changes out of his uniform, excited to party. Rashad is not particularly enthusiastic about ROTC, and explains that his father, David, makes him do it. David believes that being in the military is the best thing a black man can do in America, and hopes that ROTC will lead Rashad into a military career. David himself was in the military for four years, followed by another four years as a police officer. These days, however, he works an office job. David points out that the military provides discipline, free education, and the opportunities to travel the world and serve one’s country. He begged Rashad’s older brother, Spoony, to consider a military career; Spoony refused, and now works at UPS.
The beginning of the novel emphasizes that Rashad’s father David has very enthusiastic, rigid ideas about what counts as responsibility, courage, and success. He clearly has great respect for institutions like the police and military and the discipline they impose. Although Spoony has not failed in life or committed any wrongdoing, his decision to reject the military and work for UPS is perceived as a failure in David’s eyes.
In the school bathroom, Rashad sees his friend English Jones, a “stereotypical green-eyed pretty boy” who is loved by everyone and is the captain of the basketball team. English and Rashad have been friends since they were children, along with Shannon Pushcart and Carlos Greene, who are also in the bathroom. The boys discuss the party at Jill’s that night, and Rashad teases Carlos for not making the basketball team. Carlos is into graffiti, and his tag––“LOS(T)”––can be seen all over town. Rashad helps him come up with ideas for what to tag, but never joins in himself, worried about getting in trouble with David.
Rashad and his friends are normal teenagers. They play sports, tease each other, crush on girls, go to parties, and commit minor acts of rebellion, such as graffiti. In fact, Rashad appears to be one of the least rebellious members of the group because his dad is so strict. This will become important soon. For now, simply note that Rashad and his friends are presented as being like any other bunch of adolescent boys.
Out of his uniform and back in his normal clothes, Rashad feels “ready for whatever Friday had in store for me.” He hopes that at the party he will hook up with Tiffany Watts, who in Rashad’s opinion is “the baddest girl in the eleventh grade.” Before he gets to Jill’s party, he wants to buy some chips and a pack of gum, and to borrow $20 from Spoony so he doesn’t show up to the party empty-handed. Rashad gets the bus to Jerry’s Corner Mart, and as he walks through the door says “wassup” to the cashier, who in turn regards him with suspicion. Rashad notices that there is a cop guarding the store, which makes sense considering that a lot of people steal from Jerry’s. Rashad himself has never stolen anything from anywhere.
Already, we get a glimpse into the subtle forms of discrimination Rashad faces as a black teenager. As readers, we know that Rashad is responsible, disciplined, and conscientious. However, the cashier at Jerry’s perceives Rashad only as a threat. The presence of the cop in the store is theoretically to keep the store safe. However, in light of the charged relationship between black people and the police––as well as the cashier’s suspicious gaze––the cop is more likely to make Rashad feel unsafe.
As Rashad browses the chips, a white lady (Katie Lansing) peruses the beer aisle beside him. Rashad chooses barbecue flavor and goes to text Spoony before realizing that he left his cell phone inside his ROTC uniform. He squats down to retrieve it, and just at that moment Katie trips backward over him, letting her beer bottle drop and shatter on the floor. Katie exclaims an apology, while the cashier and cop shout accusations at Rashad. The cashier shouts that Rashad was trying to steal the chips, and Rashad immediately denies it, putting his hands in the air.
This passage shows how a perfectly innocent, mundane situation can escalate in a matter of seconds due to the prejudice and fear that circulate around issues of race, criminality, and authority. There is irony in the fact that Rashad originally bent down to retrieve his phone from his ROTC uniform––a symbol of responsibility and discipline––yet is perceived as a criminal.
The cop shoves Rashad into a submission pose, smashing his face on the ground. Rashad hears the crunch of his own bones. Rashad is in so much pain that he cannot help but wriggle, which in turn makes the cop beat him and suppress him more forcefully. The cop taunts Rashad, saying that he will “teach” him to respect authority. Rashad feels blood in his mouth, and inside his mind he begs: “Please don’t kill me.”
The end of this chapter poses the question of why the cop reacts in such an extreme, brutal manner––especially considering Rashad didn’t do anything. The cop clearly perceives Rashad as a threat, even though this is totally inaccurate. In reality, Rashad is merely an unarmed teenager; it is the cop who is capable of serious violence.