“Why was she even in the car with a drug dealer?” Uncle Carlos asks. “Lisa, I keep telling you, you need to move her and Sekani out of this neighborhood. It’s poisonous.”
Uncle Carlos’s initial reaction to Khalil’s death is to side with One-Fifteen. By referring to Khalil as just a “drug dealer,” Uncle Carlos labels Khalil as inherently dangerous, and even calls Garden Heights “poisonous.” These statements demonstrate that Uncle Carlos has an antagonistic attitude toward Garden Heights. In stark contrast to Maverick who believes that Garden Heights can be changed and improved, Uncle Carlos sees it as a lost cause. These statements also highlight how being a police officer has shaped Uncle Carlos’s thinking, causing him to reduce Khalil to a crime he would be arrested for.
No, I can’t. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have, but it’s hard to say unless you’re in that situation, feeling what that officer is feeling—
During a tense conversation with Starr, Uncle Carlos tacitly defends One-Fifteen’s actions. In this moment, Uncle Carlos is thinking as a police officer who could have been in One-Fifteen’s shoes. Although he is Black, Uncle Carlos does not see the role race has played in Khalil’s murder because he sees the interaction as a police officer, a supposed agent of good, faced with a drug dealer, someone supposedly dangerous. Only when Starr tells him that One-Fifteen also pointed the gun at her does he truly understand that Khalil’s Blackness made him seem threatening to One-Fifteen, not anything actually related to crime.
But I love you more. You’re one reason I even became a cop, baby girl. Because I love you and all those folks in the neighborhood.
Uncle Carlos makes this statement after being placed on leave for punching One-Fifteen. In the wake of Starr telling him that One-Fifteen also drew the gun at her, Uncle Carlos reevaluates both his understanding of Khalil’s death and what kind of police officer he wants to be. Instead of seeing himself in One-Fifteen’s shoes, he sees himself as Starr’s uncle who could have lost his niece to One-Fifteen’s reactionary and racist judgment. Uncle Carlos confirms that his vision of police work is based in love, not fear or hatred.
You’re grounded, probably for the rest of your life, but that’s only because we love you.
Uncle Carlos grounds DeVante for going out of the house without permission instead of kicking him out, as DeVante feared he might. Whereas at the beginning of the novel Uncle Carlos refers to Khalil as just a drug dealer, despite having known him since he was a child, he now is able to see DeVante, a former member of the King Lords, as a teenage boy in need of guidance. By reconnecting with his love for Garden Heights, Uncle Carlos has become someone who works to truly protect the neighborhood, not just punish it.