Summary: Chapter 9
Maverick stays at the store during the riots. When gunshots interrupt dinner, Lisa orders the children into the den. They sit on the floor below the trajectory of stray bullets. The television shows people protesting Khalil’s death. The police fires tear gas at protestors. In addition to the peaceful protests, riots and looting rack Garden Heights.
News reports display a photo of Khalil and mention that the police spoke with a witness. The police will not arrest One-Fifteen. Starr blames herself for their inaction and the ensuing violence. Reporters emphasize Khalil’s drug dealing and gang connections, claiming there had been a gun in the car. Starr doesn’t think there was a gun, but because Khalil never told her about joining a gang or dealing, she isn’t sure anymore. Nevertheless, she knows Khalil didn’t deserve to die. When Maverick comes home early in the morning, Lisa suggests moving, but Maverick won’t hear of it.
Starr jolts awake from another nightmare when Seven knocks and asks her to play basketball. Starr fears that if people know that she’s the witness, they’ll blame her for the police’s decision, but Seven insists she should come. They call out to their parents as they leave.
Starr and Seven go to Rose Park, ignoring a group of King Lords nearby. Two teenaged members of the Garden Disciples attempt to rob Starr and Seven. Starr knows the King Lords won’t intervene to protect people who aren’t in the gang. Nevertheless, a teenaged King Lord threatens the Garden Disciples, and the Garden Disciples flee. The King Lord introduces himself as DeVante, the boy Kenya and Denasia fought over. Seven asks DeVante why he’s out early on a Saturday. DeVante admits he’s dealing drugs. Starr thinks that King must have damaged Kenya’s romantic choices if she’s attracted to dealers. Seven consoles DeVante about his brother, Dalvin’s, death, presumably from gang violence. DeVante admits that he’s also in Rose Park because of the mournful atmosphere at home.
Maverick drives up and yells at Starr and Seven for leaving without telling him. When they get home, Lisa is furious. Starr insists they called out before leaving, but their parents didn’t hear them. Seven attempts to take the blame because he wanted to help Starr feel normal. Lisa declares that nothing is normal and takes their cell phones as punishment. Lisa tells Starr to get ready to leave for Uncle Carlos’s.
Starr’s car ride with Lisa and Sekani gets off to a tense start. As they pass a peaceful protest, Starr regrets not marching. As if reading Starr’s thoughts, Lisa insists the police’s decision was not her fault. Lisa tells a story about Starr’s birth. She explains that when she got pregnant at 18, Nana told Lisa she wouldn’t be a good parent. Determined to prove Nana wrong, Lisa took great care during the pregnancy. She did everything right, but Starr couldn’t breathe at first. A nurse told Lisa that sometimes things go wrong even when people do everything right. The trick was to continue doing right.
At Uncle Carlos’s house, Sekani runs to his bike, which he keeps with Uncle Carlos. Nana asks Starr if she’s OK and assures her that if she isn’t, she will be because they are strong. Starr doesn’t believe her.
Chris comes over to check on Starr and apologize. Starr reluctantly tells him that the condom isn’t why she’s upset, but she’s not ready to talk about the real reason. Chris feels it’s unfair for Starr to ignore him without explanation. Starr explains that it’s because Chris is white and rich, and she is black and poor. Chris insists that he doesn’t care. Starr rebuts that they are important parts of her identity. Chris asks Starr to explain what she means because he wants to fix things. Starr misses him and how normal he makes her feel. She decides not to tell Chris that she witnessed Khalil’s murder.
Analysis: Chapter 9
Starr’s immediate judgement of DeVante parallels the media’s immediate judgement of Khalil, which implies Starr is wrong about DeVante. When Starr learns that DeVante is a King Lord drug dealer, she connects him to violent and abusive King. Her instant mental leap from King Lord to abuser parallels the media using “drug dealer” as shorthand for violent. However, DeVante does not act violent. He protects Seven and Starr from the Garden Disciples despite the maxim that gang members only care about their own. DeVante’s grief over Dalvin’s death complicates Starr’s understanding of why he’s in the park. While he initially says he’s dealing drugs, DeVante mentions his grief after Seven offers condolences, suggesting that drug dealing may also be a smokescreen of toughness to hide his vulnerability. DeVante and Khalil both possess more complexity than the drug dealer or gang member stereotypes offer them.
Throughout Chapter Nine, Starr blames herself for both the police’s inaction and the violent fallout, implying that she has taken on responsibility for things too large for her to change. This misplaced guilt plays into the theme of adults’ refusal to take responsibility for their actions hurting children and teenagers. As a teenage girl, Starr cannot possibly shoulder the burden of all the neighborhood’s hurt, nor can she change the minds of a legal system determined to protect its own. Therefore, when Lisa tells Starr the anecdote about her birth, the comparison between a pregnancy and the unjust legal system highlights the complete lack of power and control Starr has over the situation. Just as Lisa had direct power over very few factors in her pregnancy, Starr only has the power to tell the truth, which she has already done. Lisa’s encouragement to continue “doing right” emphasizes that Starr can only keep doing her best with the things she can control.
The effects of violence and gangs on black childhood play a major role in this chapter. Starr and Seven face punishment from their parents not because of normal parental strictness, but because of the riots and violence in the neighborhood. Black childhood is disrupted by different forms of violence, including police brutality, gang violence, and the fallout of both. Starr, Seven, and Sekani know immediately to duck for the bullets that interrupt their dinner, signifying that this kind of interruption is common enough that they know what to do. All the gang members at Rose Park are teenagers whose gang connections mean they spend their Saturday mornings selling drugs or robbing others instead of actually partaking in teenage activities. The contrast between Lisa’s terror at Starr and Seven, both older teenagers, running off to play basketball in Garden Heights, and her complete comfort with Sekani, only nine, running off to ride his bike in Uncle Carlos’s neighborhood emphasizes the kind of carefree adolescence withheld from the children of Garden Heights.
Starr’s unwillingness to talk about Khalil with Chris demonstrates how her new understanding of white supremacy threatens the fantasy of normalcy Chris has come to represent for her. Before Khalil’s death the biggest issue in their relationship revolved around sex, common for teenage relationships. Starr’s realization that dating a white boy automatically takes on a political cast—because of race—indicates a more complicated, less universal problem. In addition, if Chris learns about Khalil, Starr will have to open up about the difficult aspects of being black, which she fears Chris will judge her for. Starr knows addressing either of these issues will change their relationship irrevocably, and if their relationship changes, she will no longer feel like a normal teenager in her relationship with Chris. On a symbolic level, Starr bringing Chris into Uncle Carlos’s house functions as a reminder of the kind of blackness Starr allows Chris to see. Uncle Carlos has largely assimilated into whiteness and lives in the same neighborhood as Chris, so his house represents a blackness easy for Chris to understand.