In the second chapter of "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, a white police officer shoots and kills an unarmed young black man named Khalil. The protagonist and narrator, 16-year-old Starr Carter, sees it all happen from the passenger seat of Khalil's car.
"Khalil stares at the sky as if he hopes to see God," Thomas writes. "His mouth is open like he wants to scream. I scream loud enough for the both of us."
It's a fictional account that echoes similar stories in the news — Tamir Rice, Antwon Rose, Oscar Grant III. But the Charleston-area Fraternal Order of Police chapter, Tri-County Lodge #3, doesn't think teens should read the book as a school assignment.
After freshman English teachers at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant included it as one option for a summer reading assignment, Lodge President John Blackmon said he received complaints about what some saw as the book's anti-police message.
The local police advocacy group asked that the school take "The Hate U Give" off the list of English I College Preparatory summer reading choices, along with "All American Boys" by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, which also deals with police brutality. The latter book also appears on the list of choices for English I Honors summer reading at Wando.
"This is putting in their minds, it's almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we've got to put a stop to that," Blackmon said in a June 11 interview with WCBD News 2.
The Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to a request for comment Monday. It remains unclear if Blackmon or other members of the Lodge have read the books in question.
In response to the uproar, the school has kept the original four books on the English I CP list and added four more books to the list, bringing the number of options to eight.
An Abridged History of Book Bans
Parents, politicians and activists have been trying to keep certain books out of the hands of students for decades in the U.S. South Carolina is no exception. Here is a (heavily abridged) timeline of book challenges, bans\ and censorship in the Palmetto State.
Sources: American Library Association, Los Angeles Times, News and Courier archives, Aiken Standard, Smithsonian National Postal Museum
The American Library Association put "The Hate U Give" on its list of Top 10 Most Challenged Books for 2017, although the challenges in other parts of the country had more to do with the book's depictions of drug use, profanity and offensive language, according to the ALA. In addition to the shooting, the first chapter includes curse words, a reference to condoms, and depictions of teenagers smoking marijuana and taking MDMA.
In the Charleston area, critics are focusing on the book's portrayal of police officers.
While "The Hate U Give" begins with a police shooting and follows Starr as she grapples with everything from biased media coverage to racist backlash to her own social standing as a black girl at a majority-white private school, it also includes a police officer character, Starr's Uncle Carlos, who serves as a role model and a tempered voice.
Carlos first appears in the fourth chapter, pleading with Starr's father not to jump to conclusions about the white officer's motivations.
"I told you, we want the truth to come out, too," Carlos says on page 53.
Regardless of summer reading lists, teenagers will continue reading both books, which have been national bestsellers and have both received honors from the organizers of the Coretta Scott King Book Award.
They'll also read "The Hate U Give" in Sara Peck's English classes at the University School of the Lowcountry. Peck has read the book aloud with eighth-grade students and assigned it to freshmen. She said she has received no complaints from parents.
An avowed fan of the book, Peck said, "The Hate U Give" provides a vital perspective and portrays police realistically without demonizing them. She said she doubted the book would cause students to hate police.
"Maybe (the Fraternal Order of Police) could spend less time censoring books and more time teaching empathy among themselves — or how to not kill black people," Peck said. "It seems there could be a better use of their time."
Writing in defense of the book on Book Riot Monday, author Rebecca Renner described it as "complex and full of nuance."
"It is the kind of book that police officers should want teenagers reading because one of the things it says is: yes, police have murdered innocent children in our country. No, police officers are not the bad guys. The evil in our society is the machinery of hate, oppression, and fear that causes police violence in the first place," Renner wrote.
At the College of Charleston, where the book is also featured as a summer reading for incoming freshmen this year, at least one parent has raised objections. In a May letter to the editor, Simpsonville resident Kim Harrison called on the family members of law enforcement officers to protest the author's upcoming appearance at the college and described the book as "heavy-duty indoctrination with dire consequences."
"It is little wonder why young people might not want to stand for the national anthem or put their hand over their heart during the Pledge of Allegiance," Harrison wrote.
Thomas will give a free lecture titled "The Hate U Give: Finding Your Activism and Turning the Political into the Personal" at the College of Charleston's Sottile Theatre on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.