While waiting for her parents to pick her up, Starr notes that officials “leave Khalil’s body in the street like an exhibit.” The police rummage through his car and she doesn’t want them to touch his things, including his hairbrush. When an officer finally puts a sheet over Khalil, Starr worries he “can’t breathe” under it, and notes that suddenly she “can’t breathe” either.
Khalil’s treatment echoes that of Michael Brown, the real-world teen shot and killed by a white officer and whose body was infamously left in the street for hours by officials. Starr’s mention of Khalil’s hairbrush foreshadows its importance as a symbol of racist violence. The phrase “I can’t breathe” also reflects the final words of Eric Garner, whose choking death at the hands of police caused nationwide protests in the United States in 2014.
A distraught Maverick and Lisa arrive and take Starr home. They tenderly put her to bed. The following morning Starr wakes up and thinks about Natasha. At age ten, Natasha excitedly called for Starr to join her in running through a busted fire hydrant. While happily playing in the water, shots suddenly rang out. Starr dove into a bush of roses for cover, but Natasha was struck and killed.
The explanation of Natasha’s death reveals that Starr has witnessed gun violence before and underscores the danger of life in Garden Heights. Roses, which saved Starr in this moment, grow to symbolize the Carter family throughout the novel.
Starr walks to the kitchen, nothing that the Carter home has pictures of Malcom X alongside Black Jesus on its walls. She calls her family “Christlims”—a mixture of Christian and Muslim — with Maverick following the Black Panther’s Ten-Point Program more closely than the Bible. At breakfast, Seven discusses how King, a major neighborhood drug dealer, has moved in with his girlfriend, Seven’s mother Iesha. Maverick offers to let Seven live with the Carters, but Seven wants to be there to protect his mother and sisters—Kenya and Lyric—from King’s beatings.
The Carters are a family deeply aware of racial injustice and the history of civil rights. The Black Panther party, which Maverick admires and teaches his children about, specifically fought against police brutality. This scene also further establishes Seven’s backstory and care for his other sisters, as well as King’s cruelty.
Seven asks why they shot Khalil, and Starr responds that she and Khalil didn’t do anything wrong, and that Khalil did not have a gun. Maverick notes that this will cause people in the neighborhood to “lose their minds.” Starr worries about what will happen when the world finds out she was in the car; she has seen “all hell” break loose in similar situations before, and always thought she would have the “loudest voice” if someone she knew were killed. Now, however, she is afraid to speak up.
Seven searches for a reason behind Khalil’s death, but there is none apart from prejudiced fear on the part of One-Fifteen. Starr does not yet comprehend the power her voice will have in the fight for justice for Khalil, and her fear will silence her for some time to come.
Starr wishes she could stay home to watch her favorite show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which has many similarities to her own life. She also wants to talk to Chris, whom she has been ignoring. She wonders if she should call her other Williamson friends Maya and Hailey. Then she recalls inviting them to a sleepover years earlier, that Hailey’s parents wouldn’t let her attend because they didn’t want their daughter spending the night in the “ghetto.” That was the first moment Starr realized she had to keep her Garden Heights and Williamson worlds separate.
Starr identifies with “The Fresh Prince” because it tells the story of a black teen sent away from his dangerous neighborhood to live with his posh relatives. The divide between Starr’s two identities becomes all the more poignant as she reflects on the inability to explain or share her Garden Heights world with her Williamson friends.
Starr feeds the family pit bull, Brickz, who she notes is sweet to anyone unless they try to break into the house. She watches Maverick tend to his rose garden, which he spends hours in every night. Then Maverick and Starr drive to Carter’s Grocery, the family store. Starr notes the familiar neighborhood faces opening up their own business nearby. Mr. Lewis, who owns the barbershop next door, scolds Maverick for replacing a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. with one of Huey Newton. He also says he heard Khalil “got himself killed last night.” Starr angrily makes him coffee with day-old grounds. Other regulars then come into the store.
Brickz is unfairly stereotyped as being more dangerous than he is, much like Khalil was in the moments before his death. The health of Maverick’s roses is linked to the Carter family throughout the novel. Mr. Lewis’s preference for Martin Luther King, Jr.—who is often, perhaps unfairly, positioned in opposition to the Black Panthers—suggests he is less radical than Maverick. He also tries to justify Khalil’s death, as many others will do in the book.
Starr thinks about the texts she has not responded to from her boyfriend Chris, who is white. She notes that while Seven and Lisa know about Chris and have accepted the relationship. Starr is frightened to tell Maverick that she is dating a white person.
Starr’s dueling identities result in competing loyalties, and she will struggle throughout the novel to reconcile Chris being white with the oppression she and her community faces.
Kenya enters the store and asks if “her” brother — not “our,” a verbal tic that annoys Starr — stayed with the Carters the previous night. Kenya then expresses sympathy for Khalil’s death, and shares a bag of Cheetos with Starr as a means of comforting her. She says that DeVante, a boy from Big D’s party, finally asked for her number. Starr wishes she had stayed with Kenya that night.
Kenya’s claiming of Seven reflects her insecurity about their relationship. Nevertheless, she is one of the few characters who understands and accepts Starr’s Garden Heights identity, and as such is able to offer comfort with few words.
Kenya and Starr walk to get food from Mr. Reuben’s, a kindly shopkeeper who remembers all his regulars’ names and orders. On the way back, they are stopped by Kenya’s father, King. Maverick, who used to be in the same gang as King, bristles when King addresses him by his former gang affiliation. King asks to keep a package — ostensibly of drugs — at Maverick’s store, and Maverick angrily refuses. He tells King not to forget that he went to jail on his behalf, and further warns him not to lay a hand on Seven. King takes Kenya and speeds away.
Mr. Reuben reflects one of the best parts of Garden Heights—that is, its strong sense of community. King, on the other hand, represents the extent to which gangs and drugs control many residents’ lives. He serves as a foil to Maverick throughout the novel, symbolizing the violent, dangerous path some men take to survive in the world of Garden Heights and how this path hurts everyone around them.