When Starr interacts with Khalil at the beginning of the novel The Hate U Give, she describes the crowd parting for Khalil, as if he were a black Moses. She then mentions that while he is trying to portray himself as a smooth guy, his dimples betray his true nature. It is in this vulnerable moment that readers see Khalil as Starr sees him: a charming young man. Throughout the novel, Starr’s childhood memories of Khalil allow readers to see a very humanized side of a boy who lost his life to police violence. In contrast, the media dehumanizes him, removing all trace of the charming young man that Starr knew and portraying him as a gangster who deserved to be shot by law enforcement. In addition to skewing the life that Khalil lived, the media blurs the events of the night that Khalil was shot. In truth, Khalil turns in his last moments and says, “Starr, are you okay?” This shows he is a caring young man, concerned for Starr’s well-being. The media, however, portrays his last moments completely differently. The message presented to the public is that Khalil, framed as a gangster, threatened the police officer, leaving the officer with absolutely no choice but to shoot him. The media justifies this killing by saying that Khalil sold drugs, a fact which Starr argues carries far more weight than any media personality could comprehend. Khalil was forced to sell drugs in order to save his mother’s life, Starr reveals. There is, as always, far more to the story than is reported. In this moment Starr reflects, “I don’t understand how everyone can make it seem like it’s okay he got killed if he was a drug dealer and a gangbanger.” It is in this fact of our society that Starr realizes how, particularly those who follow media around the case closely, are able to justify his murder without knowing the real Khalil.
The Hate U Give offers a deep exploration of police violence and the subsequent reaction and resistance of young people—all seen through the eyes of Starr Carter. Starr struggles with her identity, which is split between her predominately black neighborhood and her predominately white private school.
The novel's turning point occurs when Starr's friend Khalil is pulled over while driving and then shot and killed by a white police officer. Though Starr remembers her childhood friend as smart, funny, and handsome, the media seems determined to portray Khalil as a drug-dealer and a thug. They constantly suggest he was involved with gangs and bypass all the good things about him, such as his love and support for his mother.
Starr is, of course, very angered by this portrayal of Khalil. She knows who Khalil really was and, even though the characters outside Starr's neighborhood feel Khalil was a criminal who got what he deserved, Starr knows that's not true. The Hate U Give illustrates how hard the media works to soften the blow of police violence when it is employed against minorities, possibly in an effort to protect the shooter. Only through Starr's thoughts and feelings do we understand that Khalil was not a thug and that his death was an unjust and horrifying event.
Most of the memories that people share of Khalil are ones that make him look like a criminal. They focus on negative aspects of Khalil, as if he himself was responsible for his death. For example, Mr. Lewis says, "That Khalil boy got himself killed last night. He was probably selling that stuff." Social media and the news push the image of Khalil as a criminal, too. They're unwilling to be sympathetic or to look for positive aspects of him. They just want to frame him as a bad person; this affects how people who weren't very familiar with them see him. They only remember the bad interactions or focus on the negative aspects of the boy.
Starr gets angry when people remember Khalil that way. Those memories don't align with the boy she knew and cared for. To her, Khalil was both a young man and a friend, not some hardened criminal who needed to be killed. She remembers sitting on a porch with him arguing over a scooter, playing hopscotch and jump rope. The people that remember him the way Starr does remember him with mournful sorrow. They miss him and mourn his humanity and the loss of a person they cared for. People in Khali's community who talk about his death on Twitter share messages like "RIP Khalil" and "F--- the police" before the details come out.
The two major differences in the book are how the media portrays Khalil and how Starr remembers him.
Khalil's Media Portrayal
The media shows Khalil in an incredibly negative light. They focus on his history of selling drugs and imply that he was heavily involved in gang activity. They ignore the fact that he was supporting his mother, and they spend a significant amount of time considering the idea that he did actually have a gun, even though no gun was found at the scene. This causes many characters outside of Garden Heights (Haley, most notably) to view Khalil as a "thug" who got what he deserved.
Starr's Memory of Khalil
Starr remembers Khalil as a funny, handsome, bright young man. She reflects often on their childhood together and the games they played. She remembers that Khalil loved Harry Potter and was her first real crush. She knows the trauma Khalil suffered from his mother's illness and from the loss of Natasha, their childhood friend, to gun violence. She knows that Khalil was getting involved with dealing but also knows his dire financial situation. She also feels guilt around her presence on the night he was murdered.
Starr's memory of Khalil, many elements of which are shared with others in Garden Heights, enhance the belief that is death was a tragic miscarriage of justice.