Summary: Chapter 12
Starr sees a tank passing on her street, flanked by an officer who reminds the neighborhood that the police will arrest anyone violating curfew. Starr checks her new blog, The Khalil I Know, where she shares photos from Khalil’s childhood. In an hour, hundreds of people like and reblog the posts. Starr goes to Seven’s room and notices a garbage bag full of his clothes. King ordered Iesha to kick Seven out. Seven brushes off Starr’s concern.
Starr gets a text from Maya, who suggests that Starr, Hailey, and Maya talk because things have been awkward. Starr resents that Maya always plays peacekeeper. Lisa tells Starr the District Attorney would like to question Starr about Khalil’s death. Starr is ready to talk.
That afternoon, Lisa brings Starr to the Just Us for Justice headquarters, which is decorated with photos of Black Power activists. Ms. Ofrah greets them and calls Khalil’s death a murder. Maverick arrives after dropping DeVante at Mr. Lewis’s. The District Attorney will bring Khalil’s case before a grand jury, who will decide whether to indict One-Fifteen. Starr worries about answering the District Attorney’s questions because she doesn’t know if Khalil had a gun in the car. Ms. Ofrah explains that the “gun” was a hairbrush that One-Fifteen claims he mistook for a gun. She wonders how One-Fifteen’s father will address the hairbrush in his upcoming television interview. Starr hates that One-Fifteen gets his side of the story told and resolves to be Khalil’s voice.
As they leave the office, Starr tells Ms. Ofrah about Natasha’s murder. Now that Ms. Ofrah has used the word murder, Starr feels she can too. She proclaims that Khalil and Natasha mattered. Ms. Ofrah offers to represent Starr pro bono and suggests they get Starr an anonymous television interview. Suddenly DeVante phones Maverick, and Maverick says they’ll hurry over.
Summary: Chapter 13
In Maverick’s office, Mr. Lewis explains how the King Lords beat him up. Mr. Lewis insists that DeVante is actually the one in real danger. King ordered the King Lords to kill DeVante on sight.
Maverick attacks DeVante, shouting that King would not want DeVante dead for refusing to shoot someone. DeVante confesses to stealing money from King to buy bus tickets for his family. He knew that if he killed Dalvin’s killers, their gang would kill him. When DeVante’s mother found out, she threw him out of the house to protect his sisters. He begs for Maverick’s help.
Maverick brings the family and DeVante to Uncle Carlos’s. To Starr’s surprise, Uncle Carlos is home despite it being a work day. His knuckles are bruised. DeVante panics when he learns that Uncle Carlos is a cop, but Starr assures him Uncle Carlos won’t make him snitch. Uncle Carlos quips that he can’t question DeVante because he’s on leave. Starr asks why, but he won’t answer.
Chris arrives, and Starr decides she must be brave enough to tell Maverick about Chris. Maverick is outraged over Starr dating a white boy and hurt that she told Uncle Carlos before him. Lisa drags Maverick outside to talk. Chris doesn’t understand why his whiteness is an issue, and Starr retorts that he had a conversation with his parents about her being black. Maverick and Lisa’s argument escalates. Lisa hates that Maverick brought DeVante to the suburbs but won’t let the family move. Maverick proclaims the suburbs are fake, and Lisa objects that she prefers fake and safe. Maverick storms back in the house, promising Starr they will talk later. Chris leaves.
DeVante teases Starr for dating a white boy who pretends to be black, and claims Starr could have any boy in Garden Heights. Starr says people in Garden Heights only know her as “Big Mav’s daughter.” DeVante argues that she never goes to their parties. Starr counters that people get shot at those parties, but apologizes, remembering Dalvin. DeVante says Khalil talked about Starr constantly. Starr asks how DeVante knew him, but remembers they were King Lords together. DeVante reveals Khalil hadn’t been a King Lord. King tried to recruit Khalil, but Khalil refused, and King lied at the funeral to save face. Brenda had stolen from King, and Khalil sold drugs to pay off Brenda’s debt. Starr blames herself for doubting Khalil and thinks public opinion would change if they knew why Khalil sold drugs. DeVante calls himself a thug because he sold drugs and was actually a gang member. He explains that the King Lords made sure his family didn’t starve, and DeVante liked being taken care of. Starr realizes how lucky she is that she never had to make that choice.
Analysis: Chapters 12 & 13
Starr’s first visit to Ms. Ofrah’s office directly contrasts with her visit to the police station to offer a witness statement, revealing that Just Us for Justice provides a true way forward for Starr. Instead of guns, Starr immediately notices the familiar Black Power figures on the walls, demonstrating that the office holds similar values as her family. Ms. Ofrah further earns Starr’s trust by using the word “murder” to describe Khalil’s death. Unlike Officer Gomez’s use of “incident,” murder implies a crime with a victim and a perpetrator. Ms. Ofrah validates Starr’s feelings of loss and helps Starr regain her confidence in her perception of events. Starr did not think Khalil had a gun in the car until the media suggested there might have been. Ms. Ofrah’s correction highlights how the media eroded even Starr’s understanding of the truth and validates Starr’s original experience.
Ms. Ofrah’s use of the word “murder” to describe Khalil’s death reframes Starr’s understanding of Natasha’s death and how it connects to Khalil’s. Up until now, Starr has only called Natasha and Khalil’s murders “deaths,” a phrasing that is more direct than “incident,” but still removes a perpetrator from the crime. The legal system did not seek out Natasha’s murderer, treating her murder as a “death” instead of something done to her. Starr realizes that just as the police have devalued Khalil’s life by not charging One-Fifteen, they devalued Natasha’s life by not searching for her killer. That the lives of these children did not merit investigation or justice enrages Starr. When she says that she wants everyone to know that Khalil and Natasha’s lives mattered, Starr means that she wants law enforcement and the general public to treat their deaths as murders and acknowledge that someone stole their precious lives.
The amount of trouble surrounding DeVante shows how adult responsibilities have hurt him. After Dalvin’s death, DeVante sees himself as the provider for his family, and realizes that by following King’s orders and retaliating, his family will lose their provider. Therefore, DeVante resorts to theft as an escape for his family because he is a teenage boy without resources or adults in his life who have the power to protect him. DeVante’s tears during his confession contrast his previous tough talk and highlight how most of his “gangster” persona is feigned strength because he cannot afford weakness. Starr’s comparison of DeVante’s tears to Khalil’s tears over Brenda shows the way parenting their parents put both boys in danger. Although drug dealing did not kill Khalil, Starr regrets that he had been in that much danger in the first place. Just as Khalil slipped through the cracks because he had no support network, DeVante might too.
DeVante’s revelation about Khalil epitomizes Lisa and Maverick’s insistence that Starr needs the full story to judge Khalil’s situation. Just as DeVante finds himself in a situation too big for a teenager to escape alone, Khalil took responsibility for Brenda’s actions and found himself trapped. Furthermore, DeVante’s reasoning for joining the King Lords makes Starr understand that she judged both of them while having no way of comprehending the enormity of what they faced. Starr has never gone hungry or had to take responsibility for her parents, and therefore the safety and resources gangs provide never tempted her. While Maverick mentioned the financial rewards of drug dealing that hooked Khalil in his explanation of Thug Life, DeVante introduces that Thug Life also traps teens because gangs provide security. Starr can no longer judge Khalil or DeVante for their choices because she now understands their circumstances left them with only terrible options.
Chris’s visit to the house highlights that he only has a shallow understanding of Starr’s situation. He asks why his whiteness matters because he does not yet grasp that Starr dating him automatically makes a political statement in a racist society. Furthermore, Starr must prompt him to notice the similarity between Chris talking to his parents about Starr’s blackness and Maverick’s distress over Chris’s whiteness. One possible explanation for Chris not seeing this connection is that he still sees white people as the default. He had to explain Starr’s blackness to his parents because being black is a deviation from the normal (being white), whereas he doesn’t expect an objection from Maverick because he does not realize his whiteness requires explanation. For this reason, DeVante considers Chris’s interest in black culture ridiculous. Chris doesn’t understand the black experiences that underpin these cultural products and still views them as a unique way of expressing himself.