Book Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds; the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. There is an uneasy balance between these two worlds however and soon what little balance there is shatters after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend at the hands of a police officer. Starr must then struggle to find her own voice and decide to stand up for what's right, not only for herself, but also for her community.
In most liberal discussions about the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is always an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do. If only decent relationships between the police and the community could be re-established, this problem could be resolved. But this liberal way of viewing the problem rests on a misunderstanding of the origins of the police and what they were created to do. The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime and they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage labor which emerged under capitalism in the mid-to-late 19th century from the threat posed by that system’s progeny, the working class. In other words, the police were created to be the domestic enforcement arm of capital.
Sam Mitrani, an Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage, wrote that, “Before the 19th century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.”
At least since 1855 the Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement officers do not have a duty to protect any individual, despite their motto of “protect and serve.” Their duty is to enforce the law in general. For example in 2005 the Court ruled, 7–2, in, Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, that a town and its police department could not be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order, which led to the murder of a woman's three children by her estranged husband. And just this month a federal judge has ruled that the school district and the Broward County Sheriff's Office had no legal duty whatsoever to protect students during the shooting earlier this year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed the lawsuit brought by fifteen student survivors of the shooting against six defendants, including the Broward School District, the Broward Sheriff's Office and school resource deputy Scot Peterson as well as campus monitor Andrew Medina, who knew Cruz and saw him arrive on campus, but did not confront him.
We are uniformly inundated with the notion about the need for police in our communities, but if the police do not even have a duty to protect our children, then what purpose do they serve and, more importantly, who’s interests do they serve? That answer, at this point, should be self-evident. For instance if your landlord refuses to fix your kitchen sink or if your boss refuses to pay you in a timely manner, do the police jump in to help you out? No. If you do not pay the landlord on time however will the police show up to evict you? Yes. If you strike with your fellow workers over unfair labor practices will the police show up to escort you off of the property or force you back to work? That answer again is unquestionably yes. The Police fully represent only the interests of the ruling power and of the ownership classes, almost never the average poor or working class person. The primary function of the police is to simply uphold the status quo, enforce property rights and collect revenue for the state through enforcing largely arbitrary and predatory mandates. Most of their crime fighting efforts amount to responding to violence with more violence, almost no effort is ever spent towards preventative methods and when they do try to prevent crime, their standard tactic is prejudiced profiling based superficially on class. However, it’s almost always the case that those who enact this repression on behalf of the powerful are working class themselves. Soldiers, policemen, bailiffs, prison officers, and border control officials are amongst those who perform jobs antithetical to the interests of the working class. The inherent contradiction is in the fact that these people share the plight of the workers whilst being the most powerful instruments of established power to maintain that plight.
But how should we respond to this problem? I don’t have an answer really and neither does Angie Thomas, who has written a largely overhyped book with no emotional, let alone sociological or historical, payoff. Her book is a didactic issues filled novel directed at young adults and yet, even at this level, I was still hoping for something a little more profound and nuanced concerning the complexities the novel is attempting to address. But it remained however an overly simplistic and idealistic depiction of current events in modern America, especially concerning the relationships between poor communities and the police.


  1. Two points, I guess -

    (1) Why the police were created. My brother's a historian. Apparently the king of England created the House of Lords to ensure a revenue stream (they all had to pay him taxes). When he ran out of peers, he created the House of Commons. Then these two houses realised they had leverage: he did what they told him to do, or no money. They voted on what needed to be done. Then all landowners could vote. Then all men. Then everybody.

    So democracy in the UK (and I realise 'democracy' is a very relative term) evolved from the top down: the houses of parliament were not created to ensure democratic government; they were created as a revenue stream for the king. By extension, things change. The police were created to protect the interests of the wealthy, a role they still pretty much fulfil to this day (in Ireland, in the UK etc) but that can change.

    (2) Why the US is different. Killing random people (usually black people) because their tax disc is out of date or because they tried to pass a counterfeit bill is not law enforcement. It's thuggery. Crucially, it's thuggery that actually undermines the rule of law (and any security the rich might enjoy) - the inevitable consequences being riots, distrust and general anarchy.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Both two great points.


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