“You said it yourself, he thought Khalil was a drug dealer,” Daddy says. “A thug. Why he assumed that though?”
Maverick brings up this crucial point when Uncle Carlos suggests that One-Fifteen may have been afraid of Khalil because he was a drug dealer. At the moment of the traffic stop, One-Fifteen did not know who Khalil was, and he did not find any drugs on him. The only reasons for him to assume Khalil was a drug dealer were Khalil’s race and the fact that he was in Garden Heights, an area known for poverty and crime. His assumptions, therefore, were based in racist stereotypes of Black boys and men.
The drug dealer. That’s how they see him. It doesn’t matter that he’s suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.
When the media refers to Khalil as a drug dealer, Starr realizes that the entire narrative of Khalil being a drug dealer is enough to prove his guilt in the eyes of many people. Even the mere suspicion that Khalil might have dealt drugs shifts the mainstream narrative so that Khalil is no longer a teenage boy but a dangerous criminal. This narrative makes Khalil’s death seem like a clear case of self-defense on One-Fifteen’s part.
I tense as footage of my neighborhood, my home, is shown. It’s like they picked the worst parts.
In the television interview with One-Fifteen’s father, the media weaponizes stereotypical images of Garden Heights to justify One-Fifteen’s fear. As Starr points out, Garden Heights has plenty of good things about it, like the caring neighbors, Maverick’s store, or Mr. Reuben’s barbeque. Instead of showing a place where people band together to make the most of what they have, the media intentionally shows frightening images that make all of Garden Heights look scary. If Garden Heights is a scary place, the average viewer will sympathize with One-Fifteen’s “self-defense.”
This all happened because he . . . assumed that we were up to no good. Because we’re black and because of where we live. We were just two kids, minding our business, you know?
While on Mrs. Carey’s show, Starr explains to everyone how stereotypes of poor Black people are the root cause of Khalil’s murder. Starr and Khalil do not do or say anything during the traffic stop that is out of the ordinary for a pair of teenagers, and yet Khalil’s annoyance at being pulled over seems like aggression to One-Fifteen. Indeed, One-Fifteen has no real reason to believe that two teenagers are of any threat to him. All he knows is that they’re Black teenagers from Garden Heights, a neighborhood associated with poverty and crime.
“He was a drug dealer and a gangbanger,” Hailey says. “Somebody was gonna kill him eventually.”
This quote occurs during Starr and Hailey’s final argument, as Hailey tries to defend her position that Starr has no reason to be mad at her for siding with One-Fifteen. The implication here is not only that Khalil deserved his own death, but that Starr’s pain doesn’t matter because she’s grieving and defending someone unworthy of that love. Hailey uses these stereotypes to completely eliminate tragedy from the situation and portray Starr’s pain as ridiculous.