For the past week or so I’ve been reading Angie Thomas’s debut YA novel, The Hate U Give. In the opening pages of the book, 16-year-old Starr and her best childhood friend Khalil, both black, are driving home from a party when they’re stopped by a white police officer. After being ordered and half-dragged out of the car, Khalil goes to open the door to ask Starr if she’s okay, and the police officer shoots him to death. The rest of the book details the aftermath of Khalil’s death, Starr’s decisions to speak out as the witness to the shooting, and the complex relationships among Starr’s family, neighbors, and friends both in her neighborhood and at her mostly white suburban prep school.
Yesterday morning, I was riding the bus to campus and had reached the last pages of the book. I got to the second-to-last page:
It felt like the narration had broken a wall. Up till now, it had been about the fictional Khalil, but now it was about real people. As my gaze traced this litany of familiar names, my memory filled in surnames where I knew them: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice (twelve. years. old), Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and then… Philando Castile.
I flipped to the front of the book; when had it been published? Just this year. Philando Castile was killed a little less than a year ago, which means Angie Thomas must have added him to this list in a later draft of The Hate U Give (maybe he wasn’t the only one she had to add).
Philando Castile was from St. Paul, MN. He worked at a school, where he was a beloved figure. I remembered the protests that happened last summer outside the Governor’s Mansion on Summit Avenue, right near where I used to live. I remembered the four-year-old girl who’d been in the back seat of the car when the police officer shot Philando to death and who’d tried to comfort her mother, who was streaming her partner’s death on Facebook Live. And I thought about how over the past few days I’d been reading Star Tribune articles about the jurors’ deliberations in the trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez. The jury was struggling; the judge was advising them while turning down certain requests they made. This was happening right now, and here was Philando’s name in the book in my hands. Tears sprang into my eyes, and I thought I was going to cry on the bus.
After lunch, I read in the Star Tribune that Yanez had been acquitted on all counts. And I was not the least bit surprised. But my heart ached. In The Hate U Give, the police officer who kills Khalil is never even charged. Angie Thomas could not have written the book any other way.
There was no justice for Philando. This is wrong. Our country is sick. I don’t have eloquent words to offer, and my voice isn’t among the most important on this subject. I want to have Starr’s hope, and I think, somewhere, I still do. But right now it’s these words from The Hate U Give that are echoing in me: How? I don’t know. When? I definitely don’t know.