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Seven’s car runs out of gas, so the teens leave the car while they look for a gas station. As they approach the street where Khalil was murdered, the teens find a group of protestors chanting, “A hairbrush is not a gun!” Ms. Ofrah stands on a police car, leading the protest. The police call for the protestors to disperse. For a moment, Starr flashes back to Khalil’s murder, but turns that pain into a loud shout. Ms. Ofrah goes over to Starr. She asks about the riots on Magnolia, noticing DeVante’s bruises, but they reassure her he’s OK. They tell Ms. Ofrah the Just Us for Justice office is OK too. She says that even if it wasn’t, it was just a building. Ms. Ofrah asks Starr if Lisa knows where she is. Starr lies, but Ms. Ofrah doesn’t believe her. After Starr insists that she wants to do something, Ms. Ofrah leads her to the front of the protest.
Starr stammers, but the crowd calls for Starr to speak. The police order the protesters to leave. Starr introduces herself and calls One-Fifteen a criminal. She shouts at the police that until there’s proof that the police care about justice for black people, black people will keep protesting. She states that the fact Khalil lived is more important than how he died. The police give the protestors until the count of three to disperse. The crowd chants, “Khalil lived!”
The police throw tear gas at the crowd. Starr picks up a canister and throws it back at them. Tear gas stings Starr and her friends. Goon drives up in a pickup truck and tells them to get in. A cameraman and an older white man sit in the car. The white man begins to talk to the camera, and Starr realizes that he is a national news anchor. He asks Starr whether she really is the witness and if she would like to make a statement. Starr acknowledges that she is, and states that “none of this makes sense.”
Starr watches in horror as her neighborhood descends into chaos. Fortunately, when they reach the Carter family store, it is still intact. Maverick is not there, but Starr and her friends get milk for their eyes to help counteract the effects of the tear gas. The cameraman records everything. Goon leaves with some milk to help others attacked by tear gas, and the reporter and cameraman follow. As he leaves, Goon tells Seven and Starr that Maverick is looking for them. Starr checks her phone and finds multiple messages from Lisa. Seven decides to call from the office phone so that Lisa knows they aren’t lying when they tell her they’re at the store. Suddenly, a Molotov cocktail launches into the store and explodes.
Fire spreads through Maverick’s store. The teens run for the back door, but it’s locked, and Goon has the key. They see Mr. Lewis in the street and call out to him. Mr. Lewis calls for help. Maverick runs to the door with his keys. Lisa and Uncle Carlos arrive, relieved that Starr and Seven are safe. Everyone watches in horror as the Carter family store and Mr. Lewis’s barber shop burn.
King drives up and lights a cigarette, making it clear he was behind the arson. Maverick threatens King, but King laughs. Firefighters arrive on scene, and the police attempt to disperse the crowd. Mr. Lewis yells for the police to arrest King because he started the fire. King suggests that Mr. Lewis inhaled too much smoke. Maverick backs up Mr. Lewis, but the police ask if anyone saw King start the fire. Multiple neighbors attest that they saw King. The police order King to get down on the ground.
Paramedics attend to the teens’ injuries. Starr leans on Chris, glad that he stayed with her. Lisa asks why Starr threw tear gas at the cops, and she says she was throwing it back to them. Starr says that the grand jury’s decision wasn’t right. Lisa reminds Starr that sometimes things go wrong even if you do everything right. Starr insists Khalil deserved better. Lisa agrees. Maverick grudgingly respects the way Chris supported Starr, Seven, and DeVante throughout the night. He invites Chris to go boxing with him so they can get to know each other.
People cheer as the police arrest King. Uncle Carlos hugs DeVante. DeVante asks if he’ll be kicked out for leaving without asking. Uncle Carlos tells him that DeVante is instead grounded because they love him. Uncle Carlos says that while the police arrested King for arson, he’ll likely be out of jail soon. DeVante asks if they could hold him longer if they knew where King hid his drugs. Uncle Carlos promises to protect DeVante if he becomes a witness. Starr asks DeVante if he’s sure, and DeVante says that if she can face the police with only her voice as a weapon, he can use his voice as a weapon too.
The most important thing that Starr says loudly and publicly at the protest is, “Khalil lived!” In doing so, she reclaims Khalil’s humanity and emphasizes that Khalil’s life had value. Because the media portrayed Khalil as a drug dealer and therefore inherently dangerous, so much of the narrative surrounding Khalil involved debating whether he deserved to die or not. Starr argues that the details around Khalil’s drug dealing and possible gang connections distract from the issue at hand, which is that One-Fifteen shot an unarmed teenage boy during a traffic stop. By shouting before both the community and the police that Khalil’s life mattered, she re-centers the narrative to focus on the life lost, to proclaim that a teenage boy died because One-Fifteen saw a dangerous thug instead of a child. Starr and Ms. Ofrah call this speech Starr’s weapon because her speech both fights against the system that indicted Khalil in his own murder, and fights for the boy she loved.
Read Starr’s quote regarding Khalil.
The extent of the police force used against legitimate protests signifies law enforcement’s resistance to change and collusion with the cycle of Thug Life. Instead of working with the residents of Garden Heights to protect and serve, the police make the neighborhood unsafe for the people who live there. Significantly, the police treat the peaceful protesters the same as those who burnt down buildings and threw rocks, demonstrating that they view the words of black resistance as equally threatening. According to Maverick’s explanation of Thug Life, protests and riots function as black communities holding the police responsible for their role in Thug Life: the criminalization and death of black boys like Khalil. The vehemence of the police response shows that they view perpetuating the criminalization of black people as part of their job and that they do not include black communities as communities worthy of protection.
Read more about the phrase “Thug Life.”
Starr’s courage in speaking out for Khalil and bringing attention to King’s damaging influence inspires the residents of Garden Heights to stand up against King. Whereas multiple people once considered Mr. Lewis’s tirade against King foolish and dangerous, now multiple neighbors step forward as witnesses to assure that King gets arrested for arson. Starr’s courage in fighting to free Khalil’s memory from both King and the police has transformed the idea of “snitching” on King from dangerous to brave and noble. Because he sees Starr’s willingness to face danger in order to fight for change in the community, DeVante cites Starr’s speech as a reason why he will testify about King’s drug dealings. Starr’s courage may not have indicted One-Fifteen, but she has galvanized the neighborhood and encouraged the residents to fight for themselves.
By arresting King, the police demonstrates how law enforcement can create positive change in Garden Heights if they work with the community. King’s arrest contrasts with the police’s attack on Maverick in Chapter Eleven because the police listen to the Garden Heights residents and do not use excessive force. When the police attack Maverick, they ignore Mr. Lewis’s interventions and assume they understand the situation better than the community. Furthermore, they use the situation as an excuse to exercise a personal grudge. Here, the police actively seek witnesses to the crime before moving to arrest King, allowing the community to identify the real threats. Although we know the police have had their eye on King for a while, particularly after Mr. Lewis’s and Starr’s interviews, they do not allow their desire to arrest King to overpower the actual situation. This effective policing helps break the cycle of Thug Life both by removing King from the community and because the police have not criminalized the whole community, but instead allowed the community to identify what is hurting it.
Read more about One-Fifteen as a symbol of racism in law enforcement.
Starr’s reflection on the injustice of the grand jury’s decision highlights the power of systemic racism. Her only way to fight for Khalil was to testify before the grand jury at great personal risk, and yet not even her best fight and having the truth on her side were strong enough to get Khalil justice. The heartbreaking results reposition Lisa’s advice about “doing right” as a warning that sometimes not even Starr’s best intentions can change the immense forces stacked against her. Starr tells Lisa that she threw the tear gas back at the cops instead of “continuing to do right” because she felt Khalil deserved better. She tried to “do right” with her anger by protesting peacefully, but the police still treated her as violent. Lisa does not press Starr again after Starr’s insistence that Khalil deserved better, showing that Lisa has no good answer to Starr’s anger because she cannot deny the unfairness of the situation.
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