The Hate U Give follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter after she witnesses the killing of Khalil Harris, her unarmed black friend, by a white police officer. Though this specific moment of police brutality spurs the action of the novel, author Angie Thomas also presents excessive force as part of a larger tapestry of racism and the criminalization of black communities in America as a whole.
Police brutality is such a reality in Starr’s world that her parents Maverick and Lisa give each of their children “the talk” about how to behave around law enforcement. When pulled over after Big D’s party, Starr is grateful that her parents told her “what to do if a cop stopped” her and hopes “somebody had the talk with Khalil.” For black children, knowing how to act in front of law enforcement can be a matter of life and death. Maverick further instills in his children knowledge of how systemic racism manifests in society. Starr and her half-brother Seven are taught to recite the Black Panther’s Ten-Point Program, including the phrase, “We want an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of black people, other people of color, and oppressed people.” These steps are necessary in a world quick to assume that black individuals are dangerous.
The criminalization of black youth appears early in the novel, when Khalil is shot during a traffic stop despite posing no threat to One-Fifteen, the officer who pulls him over. One-Fifteen then points his gun at the unarmed, terrified Starr until backup arrives. This scene establishes that black people, even children, are not only not afforded a presumption of innocence, but are often deemed threats. The media then attempts to present Khalil as a thug in an effort to rationalize One-Fifteen’s actions. Even Carlos, Starr’s uncle and a detective on the same force as One-Fifteen, describes the officer as “a good guy” who was in over his head. Maverick pointedly responds by questioning why One-Fifteen “assumed” that Khalil was “a thug” just “by looking at” him. In his television interview, One-Fifteen’s father further attempts to garner sympathy for his son by painting him as a man who feared for his life. The media’s focus on Khalil’s alleged background as a drug dealer is another tool to exonerate One-Fifteen. As Starr points out, however, selling drugs should not be a death sentence. The novel thus suggests that black children are not simply robbed of their innocence, but also killed for minor transgressions.
Though Khalil’s death is the novel’s most horrific example of excessive force, the thinking that underlies police brutality manifests throughout Thomas’s story. The fact that a black officer, Larry, later forces Maverick to the ground suggests that though brutality is targeted towards communities of color, its perpetrators need not be white. Thomas elevates police brutality beyond an issue of black vs. white individuals and suggests that the systemic criminalization of people of color can be internalized by anyone.
The inclusion of Carlos further complicates the notion that all police officers are “bad.” Carlos defends the force to Maverick, pointing out he’d “be surprised at how many of us want justice in this case.” Starr is initially conflicted about joining in protests following Khalil’s death in part because of her uncle. Ultimately, however, she decides that the issue “isn’t him or his coworkers who do their jobs right. Rather, “This is about One-Fifteen, those detectives with their bullshit questions, and those cops who made Daddy lie on the ground.” Thomas suggests that police brutality is not just about individual officers, but rather a culture that allows prejudice and violence against communities of color to go unchecked. The fact that Carlos eventually does confront One-Fifteen and is put on leave for it also suggests that anyone who doesn’t defend the “bad apples” risks their job. This points to a broken culture of policing in general, even if not all officers are actively racist.
Racism and Police Brutality ThemeTracker
Racism and Police Brutality Quotes in The Hate U Give
As long as I play it cool and keep to myself, I should be fine. The ironic thing is though, at Williamson I don't have to “play it cool” — I’m cool by default because I'm one of the only black kids there. I have to earn coolness in Garden Heights, and that's more difficult than buying retro Jordans on release day.
Funny how it works with white kids though. It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black.
Garden Heights has been a battlefield for the past two months over some stupid territory wars. I was born a “queen” ‘cause Daddy used to be a King Lord. But when he left the game, my street royalty status ended. But even if I’d grown up in it, I wouldn't understand fighting over streets nobody owns.
Listen! The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?
The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me. … “Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."
I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.
But I swear I wanna cuss Khalil out. How he could sell the very stuff that took his momma from him? Did he realize that he was taking somebody else's momma from them? Did he realize that if he does become a hashtag, some people will only see him as a drug dealer?
He was so much more than that.
Williamson Starr doesn't use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn't say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she's the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn't give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.
Hailey texted me immediately after, freaking out. I thought it was because she couldn't believe someone would do that to a kid. No. She couldn't believe I would reblog such an awful picture.
My voice is changing already. It always happens around “other” people, whether I'm at Williamson or not. I don't talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I'm ghetto.
“Hustle! Pretend the ball is some fried chicken. Bet you'll stay on it then.”
The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.
If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?
“Drugs come from somewhere, and they're destroying our community," he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can't get jobs unless they're clean, and they can't pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s ‘Thug Life.’”
[Tupac] explains Thug Life like Khalil said he did. The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. ‘Pac spells out “Fucks” because that kid is looking dead in his face. When Khalil told me what it meant I kinda understood it. I really understand it now.
“That's the so-called gun,” Ms. Ofrah explains. “Officer Cruise claims he saw it in the car door, and he assumed Khalil was reaching for it. The handle was thick enough, black enough, for him to assume it was a gun.”
“And Khalil was black enough,” Daddy adds.
A hairbrush. Khalil died over a fucking hairbrush.
“I've tried to forget it, but I remember everything. The shots, the look on Natasha's face. They never caught the person who did it. I guess it didn't matter enough. But it did matter. She mattered.” I look at Ms. Ofrah, but I can barely see her for all the tears. “And I want everyone to know that Khalil mattered too.”
Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too. Saving them from their wild African ways. Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.
That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?
“I knew that boy. Watched him grow up with you. He was more than any bad decision he made,” he says. “I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death. And at the end of the day, you don’t kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn't be a cop.”
Ms. Ofrah says this interview is the way I fight. When you fight, you put yourself out there, not caring who you hurt or if you'll get hurt.
So I throw one more blow, right at One-Fifteen.
“I’d ask him if he wished he shot me too.”
Being two different people is so exhausting. I've taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I've mastered it. As much as I say I don't have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent. Part of me feels like I can't exist around people like him.
Hailey hands me two pictures. One is Khalil's thugshot, as Daddy calls it. One of the pictures they've shown on the news. Hailey printed it off the internet. Khalil wears a smirk, gripping a handful of money and throwing up a sideways peace sign.
The other picture, he's twelve. I know because I'm twelve in it too. It's my birthday party at this laser tag place downtown. Khalil's on one side of me, shoveling strawberry cake into his mouth, and Hailey's on my other side, grinning for the camera along with me.
He said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” We did all that stuff last night because we were pissed, and it fucked all of us. Now we have to somehow un-fuck everybody.
It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It's about way more than that though. It's about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.
It's also about Oscar.
It's even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first—Emmett.