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.
Analysis: Chapters 24-25
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.
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.
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.