Back at the store, the Carters find a badly beaten Mr. Lewis, his eye swollen shut and cheek slashed. He says five King Lords attacked him, and is proud of putting up a fight. Lisa and Maverick note that he is lucky to be alive; with King Lords, snitches do not simply “get stitches”—they get “graves.” Mr. Lewis scoffs at their concerns. He says they were really after DeVante—that King will kill him when he finds him, and that King also knows Maverick is hiding him.
The extent of King’s cruelty is exemplified by the fact that he feels no qualms about beating up an elderly man. Upon hearing that the men were really after DeVante, Maverick realizes how much danger the teen has put his family in.
Maverick furiously grabs DeVante by the neck, slams him against a freezer, and asks what is going on; he knows King would not want DeVante dead unless he had done something very bad. DeVante tries to brush things off as not being a big deal, but suddenly bursts into tears.
DeVante’s posturing as a tough gangbanger almost immediately crumbles, and he appears to simply be a kid in way over his head.
DeVante reveals that King wanted him to kill the men who shot Dalvin, which would only lead to Garden Disciples coming after him. As such, DeVante stole $5,000 from King in order to get his mother and sister out of town. His mother refused to let DeVante come with them, fearing he would put them all in danger. Realizing how unsafe he is in Garden Heights, Maverick, though angry, softens, and brings DeVante to Carlos’s house—a move that surprises Starr, since Maverick never goes to Carlos’s house with them.
Though he began selling drugs to help his family and gain a sense of community, DeVante has realized that the violence King demands of him will only lead to more violence. Gangs keep Garden Heights entrenched in the cycle of drugs, violence, and crime.
Upon arrival, Starr is surprised to see Carlos at home in sweats in the middle of a workday. DeVante is impressed by the size of Carlos and Pam’s home, but worried about staying with a cop. Carlos reveals that he was put on leave, and Starr immediately knows it was due to her. Carlos explains the rules of living in his house to DeVante: no guns, no swearing, and he must go to school. Nana rudely says she won’t live with a “murderer,” but the others shoo her away.
DeVante’s misgivings about staying with Carlos reveal the depth of mistrust between black communities and the police. Carlos, like Maverick, emphasizes the importance of education if DeVante wants to lift himself out of the cycle of crime.
Starr hears a familiar laugh at the front door, and sees Chris walk into Carlos’s house; he saw the Carters’ car in the driveway and wanted to see if everything was okay. As the others greet Chris warmly, Maverick realizes he is not a new presence in Starr’s life. Maverick grows furious to learn not only that his daughter has a white boyfriend, but that he was the last one to know about it. He is especially angry that Carlos knew before him.
Maverick’s resentment of Carlos stems from insecurity, as Carlos cared for the children while Maverick was in prison. Maverick fears not only that Starr has rejected black men because of his example, but also that she has chosen to confide in Carlos because she trusts him more than her former-felon father.
Lisa drags Maverick out to the patio, but Starr can still hear everything they say as they argue about Chris being white. Lisa then grows angry that Maverick got DeVante—“somebody else’s child”—out of Garden Heights, yet insists his own family continue to live there. Maverick counters back that at least in Garden Heights people won’t treat the children “like shit,” and says he refuses to move to the “fake” suburbs. He then drives away from Carlos’ house in anger.
Maverick still refuses to accept how much Garden Heights is holding his family back. In keeping with his dedication to empowering black people, he asserts that the danger of Garden Heights is preferable to a racist society that will make his children feel ashamed of who they are.
Chris, feeling awkward, says he should go and leaves. DeVante comes into the kitchen and teases Starr about dating a white boy, whom he jokingly calls “Justin Bieber.” He then says any of the guys in Garden Heights would be happy to get with Starr, but no one knows her because she never comes to parties. Starr snaps back that people get shot at parties in Garden Heights, but quickly realizes the insensitivity of her comment.
Starr’s comment about Garden Heights is particularly insensitive in this situation because of DeVante’s brother’s recent death. Yet DeVante’s words help Starr realize how much she has closed herself off from the world she comes from.
To Starr’s surprise, DeVante says that Khalil used to talk about her. He also asserts that Khalil was not in a gang. King tried to get him to become a King Lord, but Khalil refused, and the bandana at the funeral was King’s way of saving face. DeVante further explains that Khalil never wanted to sell drugs—and, in fact, that no one ever wants to. Khalil only started selling because Brenda stole from King, and he wanted to pay back her debt. Starr is ashamed that she thought the worst of Khalil, just like everyone else.
The rationale behind Khalil’s drug dealing reflects the cycle of poverty and crime that Tupac rapped about, and Maverick discussed with Starr earlier in the novel. Khalil had few options to support his family, and did what he needed to in order to survive.
Starr begins to explain that if only the world knew the reason why Khalil was selling drugs—but DeVante finishes her thought: they would not call Khalil a “thug” like him. DeVante says he is a thug, but that he has only done what he had to in order to survive. He tells Starr that the King Lords were the closest thing he had to a family, and that they looked out for him in a way no one else could—providing the food, clothes, and protection his mother could not. Having to constantly look out for his mother and sisters, DeVante appreciated having someone to help take care of him “for a change.” Starr realizes neither he nor Khalil had much of a choice when it came to falling into a life of crime.
Starr is relieved to learn that Khalil was not in a gang, but DeVante also makes her understand that even if Khalil were in one, that should not have warranted a death sentence. The reasons people join gangs or sell drugs are complicated, and so-called “thugs” are still human beings whose lives matter and who deserve to be understood within the context of their community. Gangs and drug dealing often result from a lack of opportunity and security.