On one of the coldest days in Los Angeles’ history, a light snowfall precipitates a car accident between Latina LAPD detective Ria and a Korean woman, Kim Lee, after which Ria’s black partner, Det. Graham Waters, states his belief that Los Angeles is so devoid of any sense of touch between human beings, people crash into each other just to feel something. As the two women exchange heated racial slurs, Graham turns to the crime scene before them, where his team is investigating the death of an unidentified black man. Spotting the body, Graham freezes. The previous day, Dorri, a Persian woman, is helping her father Farhad to purchase a handgun when the store owner lashes out at them, calling Farhad “Osama” and ordering him out of the store. As a furious Dorri points to a box of bullets and demands them as part of their purchase, on the Westside, a young black man, Anthony, comments to his friend Peter that everyone in the affluent neighborhood, both black and white, seems to stereotype them. When white District Attorney Rick Cabot walks by, his wife Jean takes his arm, causing Anthony to complain that she is instinctively afraid of them, after which the two men pull out guns and hijack Rick and Jean’s Lincoln Navigator. Driving away, Peter places a St. Christopher statuette on the dashboard, despite Anthony’s disdain. Across town, Graham and Ria arrive at the scene of a shooting by off-duty policeman Det. Conklin. Conklin, who is white, states he shot the victim, a black man, in self-defense, but when Graham and Ria search the dead man’s car, they discover that he is another off-duty policeman, named Lewis. Back at the Cabots’ house, Jean loudly demands that Rick fire the Latino locksmith, Daniel, assuming that his copious tattoos mark him as a gang member who will return to rob them. When Rick tries to placate her, Jean shouts angrily that it was only the fear of appearing racist that kept her from running from the black men upon spotting them. Later, Rick discusses with his aides how to spin the carjacking without appearing intolerant and losing “the black vote,” suggesting that he be photographed pinning a medal on a black man. In a diner in the San Fernando Valley, Officer Ryan calls his HMO representative, Shaniqua Johnson, and, finding her unresponsive to his complaint about his seriously ill father’s treatment, makes a racial comment about her name. Outside, Ryan and his rookie partner, Tommy Hanson, hear about the carjacking and pull over a similar Navigator, despite Tommy’s protestations that it cannot be the right car. Inside are Cameron, a black television director, and his wife Christine, who is performing oral sex on her husband. Although the wealthy couple lives in the area and swear that Cam does not drink, Ryan pulls him out to take a drunk driving test, inciting Christine’s rage. Ryan then orders them both to stand against the car, and in response to Christine’s hostility, fondles her between her legs as he “searches” for weapons. Cam, forced to watch, pleads for clemency in order to avoid being arrested, and finally Ryan allows them to go. When the couple return to their home, frightened and ashamed, Christine berates Cam for his “shuck and jive” and the two trade accusations that the other is not authentically “black.” At the same time, Daniel returns home to discover his five-year-old daughter Lara hiding under the bed, haunted by the memory of gang violence in their old neighborhood. By convincing her that he is bequeathing to her a magic, invisible cloak that protects against bullets, Daniel helps his daughter to sleep without fear. On the east side, Anthony and Peter are driving the Navigator to their fence and discussing how rap music oppresses black men when they accidentally hit Kim Lee’s husband as he is getting into his van. The man becomes stuck under the car and is dragged for yards, and although Anthony wants to drive off, Peter convinces him to free the man and drop him at the hospital. They then go to the fence, Lucien, who informs them the Navigator is now valueless because of the Korean man’s bloodstains. Tommy, meanwhile, has requested a transfer away from Ryan, but his superior, Dixon, a black lieutenant, explains caustically that such a report will endanger his own position by exposing that he has allowed an obvious bigot to work under him, and insists that Tommy claim he is requesting a one-man car due to his uncontrollable flatulence. At his store, Farhad calls in Daniel to fix his broken lock, and upon learning that the door will have to be replaced, assumes Daniel is trying to cheat him. The two argue, after which Daniel storms out without pay. Later that night, Graham and Ria are making love when Graham’s mother calls, and when he jokingly informs her he is with a white woman, Ria grows incensed. A half-Puerto Rican, half-El Salvadorian, Ria is further angered when Graham refers to her as Mexican, and accuses him of keeping her at an emotional distance. Across the city, Ryan awakens to hear his father struggling in the bathroom, in pain. Morning dawns, and while Anthony tells Peter that he would never steal from his own people, Cam goes to his studio, where the white star mortifies him by ordering him to tell an actor to sound “more black.” At the same time, Ryan goes to Shaniqua’s office to apologize, but when she repeats that his father cannot get treated for prostate cancer when his doctor has diagnosed a urinary tract infection, Ryan states, “I can’t look at you without thinking about the more qualified white men who didn’t get this job.” He goes on to plead for his father, a small-business owner who employed people of color but then lost his business to minority contracts, but Shaniqua is too insulted and frustrated to back down. Meanwhile, Farhad enters his store to find it ransacked, with graffiti on the walls that lambastes his family as Arabs. The insurance adjuster sadly informs the family that the company will not cover the damages because Daniel had warned them to fix the door. As Farhad, now bankrupt, walks out calmly, Graham visits his mother, a drug addict in a stupor, and agrees to her repeated appeals to find his missing brother. Christine visits Cam at work, but they merely reprise their argument and he stalks off, leaving her in tears. At the police station, Tommy has been reassigned, and Ryan warns the younger man threateningly that after a few more years on the job, he, too, will lose his idealism. Ryan is called to the scene of a car accident and races to the overturned SUV to free the trapped woman inside, not knowing it is Christine. Realizing that she is in immediate danger from the nearby fire spreading toward a fuel spill, he speaks to her kindly, but when she recognizes him, she screams and tries to evade him. Shocked by her fear, Ryan insists that he will not hurt her, and although terrified, she is forced to accept his proximity in the intimate interior of the car as he works to free her. Just as he is able to cut her loose, the car catches fire. Ryan’s partner pulls him from the car, but Ryan fights him off to return to the car to pull Christine out. As the car explodes, she collapses into Ryan’s arms, sobbing. At city hall, Rick’s consultant, Jake Flanagan, calls in Graham to collude to prosecute Conklin, who had previously shot two other black men. When Graham informs him that $300,000 in cash has been found hidden in a spare tire in Lewis’ car, Flanagan, preferring to prosecute the white man in order to keep Rick from appearing racist, tries to hold onto the idea that Lewis is an innocent victim. When Graham opposes him, Flanagan first maligns black people in general, then presents the detective with an arrest warrant for his brother. Understanding that if he agrees to frame Conklin, the warrant will disappear, Graham reluctantly accepts the bargain. Meanwhile, Anthony and Peter attempt to carjack Cam’s Navigator, an act that pushes Cam over the edge. As he explodes in rage, Anthony, although horrified to see that his victim is black, calls to Peter to shoot him. Just then, Tommy drives by in his police car, and as Peter flees, Anthony and Cam jump into the Navigator and Cam drives away with Tommy in pursuit. Cam wrests the gun from Anthony’s hand and is chased by Tommy and another police car to a suburban home, where the police aim their guns and demand that Cam get out of the car. Half-blind with tears and years of repressed anger, Cam challenges the police to a fight, but when Tommy recognizes him, he says that he knows Cam and orders the other policemen to back off. Tommy tries to calm Cam, who refuses to listen, but finally Tommy is able to convince the police to let Cam go with a warning. Cam drives away with Anthony, who was not seen by the police, then drops him off on the corner, stating that Anthony is an embarrassment both to Cam and himself. At the same time, Farhad drives to Daniel’s house just as Lara is coming home. When Daniel arrives, Farhad accosts him at gunpoint in his driveway, insisting to be repaid for his store. Lara watches from the doorway, and when she sees the gun, she runs to her father, jumping into his arms just as Farhad shoots. While Daniel, his wife and Farhad all freeze in agony, Lara whispers to her father, “I’ll protect you,” and they realize that the child is unharmed. As Daniel carries her inside, she says, “It’s a really good cloak.” Across town, Jean is telling her best friend that she is constantly angry and never knows why, and after her friend hangs up, Jean falls down the stairs. Just after the failed carjacking, Peter is trying to hitchhike home, and finally gets a ride with Tommy. The policeman tries to maintain his impartiality, but upon spotting Peter’s torn clothing, becomes concerned that the boy is dangerous. Therefore, when Peter begins laughing, Tommy immediately takes offense, not realizing that Peter is amused because the two men share the same St. Christopher statuette. Tommy orders him out of the car, and when Peter reaches into his coat to pull out the figurine, Tommy panics and shoots him. Horrified, Tommy pushes the dead body out of the car onto the road and drives off. It is this crime scene to which Graham has been called when Ria and Kim Lee collide. Back in the present, Graham freezes upon seeing Peter’s body, recognizing the boy as his brother. In a passing bus, Anthony is riding home, and when he spots the van of the man he hit, with the keys still dangling in the lock, he exits the bus and drives the van to Lucien’s. There, they discover a group of Southeast Asian refugees chained inside the van, and Lucien offers to pay Anthony for them. In the hospital morgue, Graham brings his mother to view Peter’s body, and when he promises to find the killer, his mother cruelly blames Graham for the death, as he was “too busy” to rescue Peter. Ria is waiting for Graham, but he brushes by her without a word, fighting back his tears. Nearby, Dorri finds Farhad sitting on the ground holding the gun, and he informs her that although he shot a little girl, she was his angel, and survived. Crying, Dorri puts away the gun, next to the box of blank bullets she had purchased earlier. On the Westside, Jean calls Rick to tell him she has sprained her ankle and had only her Latina maid Maria to aid her, and when she tells him she loves him, he responds without emotion, causing Jean to turn to Maria for comfort. In distant parts of the city, Ryan holds his father as he breaks down in tears, while Daniel stares out the window as his wife and daughter sleep. Later, Tommy sets his car on fire in an abandoned lot to destroy evidence of the shooting, and the falling ash looks like snow in the sky. Spotting it, Cam stops the car and joins the hooligans celebrating around the fire. When Christine calls him, he tells her that he loves her. Anthony has in the meantime brought the terrified prisoners to Chinatown, where he releases them, sacrificing a quick profit. As Anthony drives away, an Asian man crashes into Shaniqua’s car, and while snow begins to drift down, the two drivers begin slinging racial slurs on the street.