Although he dies in chapter two, Khalil plays an important symbolic role in The Hate U Give. Specifically, Khalil’s murder dramatizes the process of dehumanization and demonization of young black men in the wider news media that allows them to become scapegoats for the violence in their communities. After his death, the media quickly paints Khalil as a drug dealer with gang connections. This narrative flattens Khalil into a thug who posed a viable threat to One-Fifteen and makes Khalil responsible for his own death. The “thug” stereotype also transforms Khalil into a stand-in for many of the other characters’ fears. For example, Mr. Lewis, despite being a resident of Garden Heights, also blames Khalil for the shooting as a means of distancing himself from the violence Khalil represents. By labeling Khalil as a gang member and therefore guilty, Mr. Lewis can avoid seeing himself as a potential victim of police violence.
As Starr emphasizes at the protest, the actual most important thing about Khalil was that he was a teenage boy who lived a normal life. As Starr remembers, he loved his grandmother, enjoyed Harry Potter, and was afraid of animals. These details portray him as sweet and vulnerable, emphasizing his personhood. Even Khalil’s drug dealing reads differently when DeVante tells Starr that Khalil had to raise money to protect his mother. Although the media portrays drug dealing as intrinsic to who Khalil was, the truth reveals that Khalil made difficult choices based on the circumstances he faced. This nuanced portrait of Khalil cannot coexist with a negative stereotype about black youth. Thus, Starr’s insistence on talking about Khalil’s life rather than his death during the protest serves to remind the crowds and the readers of the multidimensionality of Khalil as a human being, rather than as a symbol for the police or the media to project their ideas of blackness onto.