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Police Brutality in “The Hate U Give” by Thomas Angie

The Hate U Give is a novel by Angie Thomas in the Urban Fiction genre with 444 pages and twenty-six chapters. The book was published on February 28, 2017, and it is an expansion of Thomas’s short story, which she wrote reacting to the murder of Oscar Grant. The novel has received positive criticism since it addresses the events that are currently taking place. Police brutality is one of the issues facing most people worldwide, especially people of color. The novel is narrated by an African-American girl, sixteen years of age, on a journey of self-discovery. The sixteen-year-old African-American girl, Starr Cartel, is the protagonist in the novel; living in a poor black background and attending school in the suburbs with white children contributes to her behavior and her withdrawal from society in the first chapters of the book. She says, “daddy told me that the tradition of black slavery passes to every black child” (Thomas 88). This puts her in an inferior world of black people. Starr is torn between the worlds of violence and poverty and fears that she will be compromising her friendship with her white friends at school and her boyfriend by telling the story. Starr is unsure how to talk about Khalil’s death because she will tarnish the white’s identity and expose their cruelty towards the black people. The repeated murder cases that she witnesses of her black friends make her want to navigate the two worlds; the black and white world. This essay aims to examine the theme of police brutality as demonstrated by Thomas in “The Hate U Give.”

At first, Starr witnesses the murder of Natasha, who is brutally killed in a drive, then her friend Khalil who dies at the hands of a police officer. Khalil’s death makes her come out of the cocoon of fear as she addresses the protestors. Starr realizes her black identity, which makes her realize that no matter what she does or says, she still has to be judged within white spaces. By testifying in front of the jury, Starr sheds light on her community and breaks the narrative that Khalil’s murder was for the benefit of the people because he was a drug dealer. She makes the people understand that Khalil’s life matters and that those involved should be held accountable. Just like a star, her leadership potential is realized. She tells the protestors, “Khalil’s life mattered; he lived” (Thomas 178). Officer Adam mercilessly killed Andre Hill of Columbus, yet he had no offense. Andre’s black identity must have led to his death.

For the longest time, police brutality due to race has continued to grow despite the many protests regarding ‘black lives Matter.’ Men and women of color face police brutality and cannot express themselves freely like whites. Thomas, in her novel, The Hate U Give, the theme of police brutality is explored through how the black characters are treated by the whites (Bacci 8). This theme relates to the happenings today, with the most famous incident being the merciless murder of George Floyd. In the novel, a series of traumatic events happen to black people. Pac tells Starr of the thug life that blacks live their entire life because they have been stereotyped and denied opportunities. Pac says, “the thug life we blacks give our children lives with them for their entire life” (Thomas 12). This makes most of them indulge in the drug trade, thus devaluing their life thus, escaping from poverty becomes a challenge for most black characters. In the novel, Thomas examines how society has stereotyped blacks to justify police brutality against them. Black characters in the novel find themselves at a cross-road and unable to navigate through the different worlds they find themselves in. in most instances, they try to switch their speech, behaviors, and manners to fit the black and white customs. For example, the main character, Starr, says that she is too black to justify the death of Khalil yet too white to stand up for Khalil. Additionally, the stereotypes protect the whites from violence and can do any form of injustice to the blacks without questioning.

The media, too, propagates police brutality through the way the news is covered because it portrays blacks as dangerous and violent. In the news about the death of Khalil, a black boy killed, the media spreads the news of involvement in a gang rather than broadcasting news on how the boy was killed. By so doing, the media perpetuates police brutality and shows how the white media is more concerned with protecting the law than black citizens’ lives (Bacci 10). Starr says, “the media focuses more on what he may have done and what he said rather than the fact that he was killed” (Thomas 127). Thomas succeeds in using the technique of symbolism to educate the world about the pervasiveness of racism. Thomas chooses the word ‘One-fifteen,’ which is the name Starr uses to refer to the policeman who killed Khalil. Although she realizes his name is Brian, Starr continues to refer to him as one-fifteen, the number on his badge. Starr says, “one-fifteen pointed a gun at her until the other police officers arrived as Khalil’s body lay on the ground” (Thomas 127). Using the word, one-fifteen could not possibly be referring to Brian alone but to all other police officers or other white institutions that continue to spread racism. The shooting of unarmed black women and men by police officers continues. The killing of Michael Brown in 2014 sparked protests, thus the Black Lives Matter movement. However, despite the protests, police brutality continues.

Work Cited

Thomas, Angie. The hate u give. Balzer + Bray, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from

Bacci, Francesco. “Black Lives Matter: Police Brutality, Media and Injustice in “The Hate U Give.” Dear White People, and On the Other Side of Freedom. REDEN. Revista Española de Estudios Norte Americanos 2.1 (2020): 7-22. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from


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