Note: Today, Thursday, October 25th, Sanford's Policy in Living Color and the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion will be making a trip to Silverspot Cinemas in Chapel Hill to watch the 7pm screening of The Hate U Give

By Jayson Dawkins

The film adaption of Angie Thomas’ New York Times bestselling young adult novel,The Hate U Give,stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter. The story revolves around Starr, who witnesses the death of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). The two are pulled over by the police after leaving a party, and when Khalil opens the car door to check on Starr, he is gunned down by the officer. Starr, whose life straddles two worlds—one white and the other black—must then make the difficult decision about whether to testify about what she saw or remain silent.

In the eyes of many in the film, Khalil is an irredeemable character. He has made a grave mistake: selling drugs. Despite the fact that he does so to provide for his sick grandmother and little brother, this one facet of his character robs him of sympathy in the immediate aftermath of his death. For onlookers, Khalil has broken the law, and if he hadn’t died on that day, he certainly would have died on another.

For those of us who practice monotheism or the Abrahamic religions, all the prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul) were deeply flawed people. And yet we praise their work. The Judeo-Christian faith teaches us that God uses imperfect people, and that we are all flawed. Thus, we all fall short of His Grace. Yet, we rarely see that that humanity or forgiveness extended to the criminal justice system, and even more rarely to black people harmed by the police. Black people are expected to be model citizens during police encounters, and if they are anything less, we demonize them. Michael Brown should’ve listened to the commands of the officer. Tamir Rice shouldn’t have been holding a toy gun. Terence Crutcher should’ve kept his hands up. Eric Garner shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes illegally.

The film highlights the role the media plays in shaping these narratives. In the film, the officer is glorified as a hard-working public servant who risks his life protecting the citizens of a crime ridden neighborhood. We’ve see this play out again and again in recent years. Media outlets run pieces highlighting the difficult life of a police officer, while simultaneously distilling a victim down to one mistake. Philando Castile was a nutrition services supervisor and had a legal license to carry a gun. Yet, his marijuana use received tons of airtime on the news. More recently, Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, shot and killed Bothan Shem Jean in his own apartment. The press released information that Jean had marijuana in his home. This information, meant to rob him of his humanity, was in no way pertinent to the sequence of events that cost him his life. 

Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, mother of the civil rights movement, but why don’t we know about Claudette Colvin, another black woman arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger? Is it because Rosa Parks was an older woman who worked as the secretary for the local NAACP office, or is it because Claudette Colvin was an unmarried pregnant teenager at the time? 

Religions often teach that one mistake does not define a person’s life, yet life doesn’t work that way. One thing can define your whole life if you are the victim of a police shooting. At the same time, there are dozens of stories of white people firing guns at people, ramming their vehicles into the police, or fighting with police. Most of these news stories end with the suspect in police custody, alive. There has been some academic research and news investigations showing that police officers have an implicit bias towards black suspects, which makes them more likely to perceive risk when approaching black suspects than when approaching white suspects.  

A study by Cody Ross, a professor at University of California found “evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans.” The study reveals that black, unarmed individuals are about 3.49 times more likely to be shot by the police than white, unarmed individuals. Additionally, the study found “no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates, meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.”

What can be done? David French, a columnist at the National Review, argues that if our soldiers can be taught appropriately determine risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, then surely we can teach our police officers to do the same in predominately Black areas? Chuck Wexler at the Police Executive Research Forum suggests the need for better training and retraining of police. I suggest less reliance on grand juries for indictments.

The Hate U Givetackles a multitude of cultural and societal issues: racism, gentrification, masculinity, fatherhood, class, police brutality, criminal justice, grand juries, and the sincerity of white allies. Even though the movie takes place in the fictional neighborhood of Garden Heights, we all know police shootings can happen anywhere. By offering the film’s white audience a small window into what it means to be Black when encountering the police, the film confronts the sobering reality that white people and black people have divergent experiences when dealing with the police.

The film hits close to home. I have experienced police discrimination. While I was campaigning for Kay Hagan’s re-election in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the police stopped me more than ten times. Their reason for stopping me was always the same: suspicious activity. Yet the explanation for “suspicious activity” differed each time. Sitting in my car, knocking on doors, leaving campaign materials, a person of interest, being a person of interest, driving through multiple neighborhoods. The encounters went well. I am still here to write and speak about it. Each time, I was respectful, remained calm, kept my hands in the officer’s line of sight and showed my license and registration. I could have easily been another victim—a name written across a poster, and you never would have blinked an eye. Moreover, you might have used my death to justify why it’s so important to follow directions when encountering the police. I always wondered why the police never stopped my white counterparts who canvassed the same neighborhoods or why the residents of said neighborhood never called the police on them. 

The Hate U Giveis required viewing. Few movies can encapsulate the complexity of our current social climate around race, class and privilege. If you think you don’t need to see this movie, then that means you really need to see this movie. And that’s not just a message to my friends on the right side of the aisle, but the left too.

Jayson Dawkins is a Second Year MPP student interested in health policy and film.


Ross CT (2015) A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0141854.

French, David. “Shouldn’t Police at Home Exhibit at Least as mMuch Discipline as Soldiers at War?” National Review.

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