Some people question that our police force takes the high authority given to them by law and their oath of honor for their own advantage. Many believe that they no longer enforce and protect our lives, but take them. In the novel The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas connects police brutality to modern America. She highlights racism and riots within our society. Some major themes throughout the novel are dueling identities, crime, a loyal community, and racism. Thomas uses her novel to bring awareness to the countless amounts of injustices African Americans have faced from law enforcement for centuries.
In the novel, the protagonist Starr Carter is riding in the car with her old time friend Khalil Harris after gunfire was heard at Big D’s spring break party. They get pulled over for a traffic stop and Khalil is forcefully removed from his Impala and searched three times while Starr has her hands on the dashboard. He comes up clean but is still told to remain outside of the vehicle. Khalil opens the driver’s door to check on Starr and is shot three times. She jumps out of the car to help Khalil, but Officer One Fifteen points a gun at her and tells her to move back. Khalil was a young unarmed African American boy that showed no threat to Officer One Fifteen, but was still gunned down. He bleed out on the concrete and was not allowed help from his friend because of the fear One Fifteen had for himself. He was let off and not convicted in the court of law. The barbarous act of policemen and the discrimination of blacks was put as a key component of the novel (‘Thomas Hate Themes’). They show “unjust” moments throughout The Hate U Give, which reflects the reality of America (“Thomas Hate Themes”). According to Amnesty International in the book Police Brutality, “Firearms should be used only in self-defense or the defense of others against an imminent threat of death or serious injury,” (Amnesty International 25). Midway through the novel, Starr’s father Maverick, who was a drug dealer for the King Lords but got out, was forced onto the ground in front of his community and children from a black policeman. Angie Thomas also shows that brutality through law enforcement has no color, you can receive hate from anyone and be treated as a minority.
Starr faces dueling identities throughout the novel because she moves between two different worlds (LitCharts Themes). She stays in the poor, gang-related neighborhood of Garden Heights, but attends the predominantly white Williamson Prep private high school forty-five minutes away. When she speaks, she changes the size of her lexicon to match the person she is communicating with. An example of this in the novel is when she states that “Williamson Starr” does not use slang nor does she give anyone a reason to believe she is “ghetto.” She holds her tongue when people make her mad and remains “non-confrontational” so no one can say she is the angry black girl (Thomas 71). She changes her personality so she will not be perceived in a toxic way and mix her two worlds together (LitCharts Themes). Many characters in The Hate U Give face the burden of having to change themselves for the up look of society. Khalil dealt with dueling identities by selling drugs to take care of his grandmother with cancer and his drug addict mother, Brenda. According to some author, “society flattens black identity and in effect robs black individuals of their full humanity” (LitCharts Themes). This is shown throughout the novel by presenting black individuals that see themselves through the judging eyes of a “racist society” (LitCharts Themes). They took Khalil selling drugs and put that on the media front to belittle his life and make it seem as if he being murdered was right.
Starr’s loyal community aids her with speaking up about Khalil and the crime in her neighborhood. They all come together to protest against the injustice African Americans face. An author quotes that police have their own gang of community. They are all loyal to one another and try to protect themselves rather than the community they serve (LitCharts Themes). In the novel, Officer One Fifteen does not get indicted and the court and police force makes sure of it. Khalil stated to Starr a quote by Tupac Shakur before he was shot. “THUG LIFE” meant “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” His perspective of the acronym was that “What society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out” (Thomas 17). Maverick also had a perspective of the quote, he stated:
Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community, you got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalil’s 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 Khalil’s 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. (170) Maverick also talks to his 3 children about what to do when a cop stops you. They are told to speak when spoken to, keep their hands visible, and not to make sudden movements (Thomas 20). They learn the tools of language and the power of your voice at the age of twelve (LitCharts Themes).
This novel applies to modern society by all the protests and riots following the hate that has been given to the African American community. From Trayvon Martin in 2012, Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014, to Sandra Bland in 2015 and many more, these people were all killed, and involved in police brutality, or injustice in the court of law. In two of these cases, the officer was not charged, in one, no conviction was made, and the other was acquitted of all charges. (Lee, “15 Black Lives”). Black Lives Matter became an International Activist Movement in 2013 to make a statement against violence (Black Lives Matter). They campaign for “working towards a world where black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise” and to stop hate (Black Lives Matter). In 2014 there was a riot in Ferguson, Missouri because of the deadly shooting of Michael Brown (Hsu, “Ferguson Riot”). Rocks were thrown at parked police cars and several buildings in the community were set on fire. Tear gas, smoke bombs, and flash grenades were used to disperse the crowd. The National Guard was brought in to bring the rioting to a stop (Hsu, “Ferguson Riots”). There were also riots and protests in St. Louis, Missouri because of the killing of an African American male by the name of Anthony Lamar Smith (Helmore, “St. Louis Protests”). It was listed that more than 80 people were arrested and 10 officers were injured (Helmore, “St. Louis Protests”). In the novel, Garden Heights protested for Khalil’s justice. They shouted “Justice for Khalil!” while shattering the glass of a cop car with a baseball bat. Some gang members stomp the front car windshields and flip them over and watch as they burst into flames (Thomas 393). They play a song written by Ice Cube and shout “Fuck the police, coming straight from the underground. A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown.” They are then asked to disperse, but instead, they hurl glass bottles and rocks at the cops. The policemen began to throw smoke bombs and tear gas. Starr stands on top of a car with a bullhorn and uses the power of her voice and makes a statement for the justice of Khalil. She states that “everybody wants to talk about how Khalil died, but let’s talk about how he lived. His life mattered!” (Thomas 412). She overcame her fears and used her voice to make a difference (Thomas, “Hate Themes”).
The Hate U Give focuses on and brings awareness to the hate crimes that happen frequently, but not important enough for justice to be brought for the victim (Noman, “Racism in America”). A source states that “unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be shot than whites by police gunfire” (Noman, “Racism in America”). Starr faces several trials throughout the novel dealing with racism and police brutality. Towards the end, she finds her voice and overcomes the obstacles she had to face. She also put her ‘Williamson Starr’ and her ‘Garden Heights Starr’ together to become one true version of herself. Although Officer One fifteen never got indicted or had to suffer from his consequences, Khalil’s name was remembered for who he really was.