Uncle Carlos is Starr’s maternal uncle and secondary father figure. In sharp contrast to Maverick, Uncle Carlos focuses less on Black liberation and more on the wellbeing of his own family by pursuing what Maverick considers the trappings of assimilation into whiteness, respectability marked by wealth and a home in a suburban gated community. Uncle Carlos’s job as a police officer signifies the main ideological difference between himself and Maverick. While Maverick believes that poor Black neighborhoods like Garden Heights will only change through community structures, Uncle Carlos believes he can help them using the justice system. However, not all the tension between Maverick and Uncle Carlos is ideological; rather, much of their tension comes from being competing father figures to Starr. In the wake of Maverick’s incarceration, Uncle Carlos takes on a fatherly role in Starr’s life with the assumption that Maverick will be permanently absent. The fallout from this time has created jealousy and resentment between them. Ultimately, Uncle Carlos and Maverick’s mutual love for Starr and desire to support her through the grand jury testimony help ease the tensions between them. Their reconciliation also symbolizes Starr accepting that both Garden Heights and Williamson are part of who she is.
As Uncle Carlos explains to Starr, his whole reason for becoming a police officer is so that he can help protect neighborhoods like Garden Heights. However, the novel portrays police departments as part of a racist system, and the racism within the system affects even good-intentioned Uncle Carlos. Despite having known Khalil, Uncle Carlos at first assumes that Khalil must have posed a threat toward One-Fifteen. He even asks Maverick and Lisa why Starr was in the same car as Khalil. Once Starr tells Uncle Carlos that One-Fifteen pulled the gun on her too, he recognizes the racism inherent in an armed police officer seeing a threat in two young Black teenagers. His self-reflection and remorse lead him to agree to help DeVante get stability back in his life. While Uncle Carlos does not leave the police force, he does make notable changes to how he approaches policing by the end of the novel. When King gets arrested at the end, Uncle Carlos and his colleagues pursue an arrest only after testimony from the community and without excessive force, working with the people of Garden Heights instead of antagonizing them.