Police brutality presently encompasses many different areas of expression, one popular book that brings attention to the topic is the book The Hate You Give (2017) by Angie Thomas. The captivating 444 page young adult fictional book describes the story of a young black man named Khalil, who is driving home from a party with one of his best friends named Starr. Eventually, Khalil and Starr are pulled over by Police Officer 115, for having an out tail light, which escalates into Khalil being killed because Officer 115 mistakes Khalil’s hairbrush for a gun. Lately, the mistreatment of African Americans by the police force has gained a lot of attention due to social media. As a result many people have begun to wonder why the police force has gotten away with the killing of black people so frequently. The truth is, it has not just begun: it is an issue that has been happening for years. Thomas wrote this book in order to give black youth in urban cities a novel that they could easily relate to.
In one scene of the book, Starr debates whether she should tell Khalil’s side of the story about what happened the night of his death or not. She later on decides, in order to gain justice for Khalil she has to tell his side of the story just as Officer 115’s father did for his son.
“Brian’s a good boy,” he says, in tears. “He only wanted to get home to his family, and people are making him out to be a monster.”
That’s all Khalil and I wanted, and you’re making us out to be monsters.
I can’t breathe, like I’m drowning in the tears I refuse to shed. I won’t give One-Fifteen or his father the satisfaction of crying. (Thomas 247)
Throughout this scene of the book, the use of comparisons and proper nouns modifies the message that can be taken away from both Starr and 115’s father’s interpretation of what happened the night Khalil was killed. The mistreatment of Starr and Khalil makes it clear to Starr that the police officer does not see her or him as a priority in society. Starr was able to acknowledge that the police force views Khalil and her as monsters, rather than people. By labeling both children as monsters, it is interpreted that they should not be treated as humans but instead as creatures to be feared. This can be interpreted because monsters are typically associated with aggression, whether it be in stories or movies. Monsters are typically characterized as creatures rather than people. Starr refers to the officer as 115 rather then Brian as his father does. By not using his real name, Starr dehumanizes the cop just as he dehumanized Khalil by mentally labeling him as a monster in order to justly murder him. Through comparing Khalil and Starr to monsters within the book, readers see where the police officer was coming from in his thought process which had caused him to, in his opinion, rightfully kill Khalil. This comparison was used to point out how many officers portray black people in society; hostile, aggressive, inferior, defective, threatening, and worthless. All of these descriptions feed into the idea of African Americans not being human, which leads to their encounters with the police being discredited.
Khalil and Starr know they are viewed as monsters by the officer, which causes them to fear him, knowing 115 associates them as being a problem in society. Because Khalil and Starr are seen as problems, the officer believes that in order to solve the problem he must eliminate them. Khalil is viewed as the enemy, and in the officer’s eyes, deserved to die, because it was not the officer’s duty to protect him. Throughout the entire scene of Khalil being pulled over, he did not do anything threatening to 115; being perceived as a monster caused Khalil’s death because monsters are something to be feared rather than protected. The officer ultimately discredits and disrespects Starr and Khalil because he doesn’t treat them as humans. This gives Starr the right to show no respect to the officer or his father by refusing to name them. This quote reveals that throughout the scene where Khalil and Starr are pulled over, Starr remained silent in order to prevent herself from offending the officer because she knew the officer did not see her as a human but instead as a threat. Khalil and Starr knew they were seen as threats in the officer’s eyes so it would be wise to hide their opinions about the situation in the heat of the moment. Starr and Khalil were in fear of how 115 would react, and they wanted to prevent conflict. Starr dehumanizes the officer as a coping mechanism. By taking away his name, she takes away his identity as a person and instead labels him as just another number. Names tie people to who they are; they are how people are identified. By taking away 115’s name, Starr takes away any power he thinks he holds over her in society.
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer + Bray, 2017.