The Downfall of Garden Heights in Systemic Racism (The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Analysis)


According to CTV News, "[t]he reality is that racism is expressed not just as conscious acts of hate or violence, but it’s far more complex than that. It evolves out of a set of deeply rooted systems in our country. So deeply rooted that it might be easy to miss.” Systemic racism is an overlooked issue in society and holds an immense and harmful impact on people of color. Specifically, in the novel, The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas portrays an abundance of trauma caused by systemic racism through the protagonist’s experiences, and addresses how it can be difficult to remain resilient in times of stress and despair. Systemic racism is revealed during the encounter between  Officer Cruise and Khalil Harris due to the racial profiling involved. It is demonstrated through the mistreatment that the two policemen portrayed toward Maverick during their confrontation in front of his store. Lastly, it is exposed to be embedded in the court system during the process of the trial following Khalil’s death.

To begin, systemic racism plays a big role in the events of Khalil’s death. For instance, when Khalil walks over to his car to check if Starr was okay, he reaches for his hairbrush and Officer Cruise thought it was a weapon without a doubt. “Ms. Ofrah opens a folder that’s on her desk, takes a piece of paper out, and pushes it toward me. It’s a photograph of Khalil’s black hairbrush, the one he used in the car. ‘That’s the so-called gun,’ Ms. Ofrah explains.” (Thomas p. 217). Cruise’s immediate insinuation that Khalil was picking up a weapon rather than his hairbrush is very insulting. The systemic racism that is embedded in the police system caused him to react this way. Likewise, that same officer held Starr at gunpoint even while she complied with all of his orders and was being very respectful. “‘He pointed his gun at me,’ I blurt out. ‘What?’ My eyes prickled like crazy. ‘While we were waiting for help to show up,’ I say my words wobbling.” (p. 120). He treated Starr as if she had done something wrong, which she had (VT) not; the officer saw (VT) Starr as a threat solely based on the colour of her skin. Above all, Cruise had no hesitation to shoot Khalil three times, ensuring that he was dead; if he would have properly investigated Khalil for possessing weapons, he would know he was only reaching for his hairbrush. “He opens the driver’s door. ‘You okay, Starr—’ Pow! One. Khalil’s body jerks. Blood splatters from his back. He holds on to the door to keep himself upright. Pow! Two. Khalil gasps. Pow! Three. Khalil looks at me, stunned.” (p. 23). Cruise chose to react with violence while there were many other ways to handle this situation, even if Khalil did possess a weapon. The officer made the assumption that he was reaching for a weapon without any proof due to the fact he was racially profiling Khalil from the very beginning of their encounter. The events that transpired during the murder of Khalil could have been avoided if Cruise attempted to recognize the systemic racism that is embedded in the police system.

The continuous events that occurred throughout the novel portrays that systemic racism is very prominent in Garden Heights. This is revealed during the encounter between Maverick and the two policemen. Maverick and Mr. Lewis got into a verbal altercation in front of his store when two policemen approached them and began questioning them to see if there was a problem. They seemed to be targeting Maverick by making assumptions about him. “‘To me it looks like this young man was harassing you, sir,’ the black one says, still looking at Daddy.” (p. 192). When the two policemen were questioning them, they implied that their altercation was more than just verbal. It seemed as though they assumed it would turn out to be a physical altercation that would be instigated by Maverick. Lastly, Maverick points out to the two policemen that he is reaching for his ID as he was reaching into his pocket. “‘I’m gonna reach for my ID,’ Daddy says. ‘It’s in my back pocket. A’ight?’” (p. 192). Maverick feels the need to make it clear that he is reaching for his wallet since it is likely that the policemen would assume that he was carrying a weapon due to the fact they racially profiled him. He seemed afraid that they were going to pull out their guns if he made any sudden movements without telling them exactly what he was doing. Following these events, the officers felt the need to assert their authority by forcing Maverick onto the ground. “The black officer looks at him. ‘Get on the ground, hands behind your back.’ ‘But—’ ‘On the ground, face-down!’ he yells. ‘Now!’ (p. 193). Maverick complied with the policemen’s orders, but they continued to search him without any reason for suspicion; the officers continued to target Maverick due to the colour of his skin. Systemic racism is a very obvious issue during the mistreatment Maverick received by the two policemen who approached him.

The process of Khalil’s trial is a very emotionally draining and time-consuming situation for Starr; in a typical trial this may not be the case but due to how difficult the court system makes it to prove a police officer guilty for a racially motivated crime, it is. During this process, Starr endured an immense amount of emotional trauma in order to convince everyone that Khalil was innocent. “I count: One. Two. Three. Four. I lose count around twelve because the guns in their hostlers are all I can see. All of them. Two of us. Momma squeezes my hand. ‘Breath.’” (p. 93). Starr should (opinion?) not have had to go through all of the stress she did due to this trial, especially since the people involved made it nearly impossible for Starr to succeed in proving Cruise guilty and Khalil’s innocence due to the stereotypes that are present in the novel. In addition to that, Starr had to undergo the interview with two detectives, Detective Gomez and Detective Wilkes, in regards to finding out the details during the night of Khalil’s death. They made this very difficult for her by asking unwarranted questions, making Khalil look quilty. “She smiles and says in that same sugary, sympathetic tone, ‘Now, do you know if Khalil sold narcotics?’ Pause. What the fuck?” (p. 102). These types of questions were asked in order for the detectives to create a valid reason to excuse Cruise’s actions from that night. This was unfair because no matter what Khalil did in his spare time, Cruise is still responsible for his death. Most importantly, the final decision of the jury was to not indict Officer Brian Cruise Jr., the officer who is responsible for Khalil’s death. “If you’re just tuning in, the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Brian Cruise Jr. in the death of Khalil Harris. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Harris family. Stay safe out there, y’all.” (p.387). Systemic racism is influential in the court system just as much as the police system, shown when the jury makes their decision. These corrupt systems caused the process to be extremely long and emotionally exhausting for many people, especially Starr.

To conclude, systemic racism is one of the main societal issues that has a great significance to many of the characters in the novel, The Hate U Give. Systemic racism is demonstrated through the conditions Khalil had to undergo during the altercation with Officer Cruise. It was then shown through the two policemen taking advantage of their authority while approaching Maverick. Finally, the unraveling of the trial for Khalil’s death revealed the systemic racism the court system holds. In this novel, people of colour experienced racial injustices which persisted to allow others to acknowledge the true impact of systemic racism.

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