Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was killed by a police officer.
He was shot within seconds of an encounter in 2014.
Black children are old enough to be considered a threat.
That stark reality inspired Angie Thomas to write “The Hate U Give,” a young adult novel about Starr Carter, a high schooler who witnesses her childhood best friend murdered by a cop.
The book has been rocking the New York Times best-seller list for 82 weeks. The critically acclaimed YA hit came out in February 2017 and still sits atop the Young Adult hardcover list.
And according to the American Library Association, it’s also the eighth most challenged book of 2017.
Even as a film adaptation of “The Hate U Give” opens in Boston on Oct. 12, the book continues to be questioned — and in some cases banned — over offensive language and portrayals of drug use.
As Banned Books Week comes to a close, it’s important to ask: If kids are old enough to be killed by police, shouldn’t they be allowed to read books that reflect their reality?
“The Hate U Give” has been pulled from schools in Texas, Missouri, and elsewhere. The Fraternal Order of Police in Charleston, S.C., opposed it being included on a high school summer reading list in July, calling it anti-police.
“When you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ to three different people, you get 30 different reactions,” Thomas told Entertainment Weekly. “There are so many misunderstandings. There’s the assumption that it’s an anti-police book, when the fact is it’s anti-police-brutality.”
She continues, in regard to the language: “There are books with way more curse words in them, for one. And two, there are 89 F-bombs in ‘The Hate U Give.’ But there were 800 people killed by police officers last year alone.”
Thomas first started writing the story when Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old, was shot in the back by a police officer on New Year’s Day 2009 in an Oakland train station. Then Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. And then came Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice in 2014.
Her story became a book. And now it’s a movie.
The story of Starr isn’t as simple as “her best friend got killed by a cop.” The book also explores gang violence. Starr lost another friend in a drive-by. Starr lives in an all-black neighborhood. But she goes to a private schoolwhere the students are predominantlywhite and rich. Her uncle is a cop. The book delves into code-switching, privilege, and class. It examines the role we all play in speaking out against injustice.
For that reason, it was included in Newton South High School’s 2017 One School, One Question summer reading challenge.
Every year, the school offers a selection of books centered on a question. That year, it was “How do I make a difference?”
Newton South librarian Jennifer Dimmick says it was a natural fit.
“It addresses themes of social justice, race, and making a difference in the community,” she says. “I think there are a lot of people who don't want to acknowledge the cause of these kinds of true situations in our country. They don’t want to be confronted with it, they don’t want their children to be confronted with it, and it’s easier to not be exposed.”
At the Newton South library, they put some of the most banned books on display. Banning books, Dimmick believes, is an example of our current climate.
“I think it’s a perfect expression of what we see in society at large,” she says, “people selecting things that reinforce their existing worldview and refusing to acknowledge, consider, or think about anything that challenges that worldview. And I think that’s true on both sides of the aisle.”
“The Hate U Give,” often referred to as THUG, is inspired by Tupac Shakur. His signature “thug life” tattoo stood for “The Hate U Gave Little Infants F***s Everybody.” Meaning, the hate we are born into, that we grow up with, destroys society.
In the book and the film, it’s a recurring message. What we feed our young will come back to serve us.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.