Quan scolds Justyce for asking so many questions in his last letter. But Quan has answers, since both Doc and Liberty have been asking him the same things. But first, some news: Quan will graduate high school in three and a half weeks. He’s excited, but he’s also mad and sad. It’s weird writing that he’s getting in touch with his feelings, but a few weeks ago he mentioned his “episodes” to Doc. Quan got a new counselor, a Black woman named Tay, and Tay thinks Quan suffers from panic attacks and PTSD. Some of the things that happened to him as a kid qualifies as trauma, so now his brain reacts to triggers that remind him of those events. Even the word “trigger” is a trigger, so Quan calls them “sparks” instead.
It’s a huge step for Quan to finally have his panic attacks and PTSD diagnosed. With a diagnosis, he can begin to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with triggering situations—such as referring to his triggers as “sparks” instead, since the word “trigger” may remind him of guns. Quan is growing up and changing for the better, now that he has a team of friends and adults who are invested in helping him do so. His excitement to graduate high school offers hope that he could still become the academic that Daddy wanted him to be—a high school diploma is the first step in what could be a long educational journey.
Quan has been writing a lot about the sparks. Most of the sparks are linked to the night Justyce asked about, though some are older. The more Quan thinks and talks about it, the more frustrated he gets. For instance, Doc pushing him so hard makes him want to do well—but Quan feels great for five minutes when he receives praise and then realizes he’s stuck in prison for a long time. He didn’t realize it would make such a difference to have someone to believe in him. Trey, DeMarcus, and Brad were all looking for support, protection, and family, but nobody gave them that so they couldn’t give that to each other. Quan writes that if they’d had the support that Justyce did, none of them would’ve been at Martel’s that night.
Since readers aren’t privy to the full text of Justyce’s letters it’s hard to know for sure what Justyce is asking about, but it seems likely that Justyce wants to know about the night that Officer Castillo died. The very fact that he feels comfortable asking speaks to how much the boys’ friendship has deepened over the course of the novel. They’re developing trust and now, Quan can pour his heart out to Justyce and feel safe doing so. He also now understands the power of supportive mentors and can look back and see how Black Jihad worked more clearly. He can see that every boy in the gang wanted the same support—but the type of support Martel offered wasn’t the kind boys actually needed.
This brings Quan to Justyce’s question of what happened the night Officer Castillo died. Honestly, Quan doesn’t remember. He has vivid flashbacks and a lot of black. But there are two things Quan can say for sure. The first is that under other circumstances, it would’ve been considered self-defense. Castillo was aiming his gun and almost made the encounter go south. Quan can barely remember, but he does know Castillo was pointing his gun at Martel before he swung around to point it at everyone else. According to Georgia law, shooting Castillo was justified since Quan thought he needed to defend himself. That probably won’t fly in court, though, given that the deceased is a cop and the witnesses are Black boys.
That Quan’s memories of the night that Officer Castillo died are so disjointed seems to be a product of his PTSD and panic attacks—the blackness and vividness of his memories are things people commonly report experiencing during panic attacks. But even if Quan doesn’t actually remember everything that happened, he doesn’t necessarily need memories to come to conclusions. He can plumb Georgia law to discover that Officer Castillo essentially provoked some of the shots by pointing his gun at people without reason. But the witnesses in Quan’s defense are all Black boys and are therefore less likely to be taken seriously due to implicit biases.
But the other thing Quan knows is that three others pulled guns. Quan took the charge because he felt he owed the gang a debt. (The interrogation was awful.) He says that Doc once asked if Quan was a killer. Back then, he couldn’t really answer. Now, he can. He wants Justyce—and no one else—to know that Quan isn’t a killer. He never fired that night and didn’t kill Officer Castillo. In a postscript, he says he’ll never say who did.
Quan shows here the consequences of the toxic loyalty Black Jihad requires: Quan is now in prison and facing decades there, all in the name of loyalty. But this moment is also significant because this is the first time that Quan asserts who he is: an innocent boy who made mistakes, but who is in no way a killer. In this way, Quan begins to take control of his identity.