On April 13, Ralph Yarl, an unarmed Black 16 year old, was shot twice in Kansas City, Missouri, after he walked up to the wrong house. The high school junior had been asked to pick up his younger siblings from a friend's house, but mistakenly went to a home a block away. The homeowner who shot him, an elderly white man, was not immediately arrested or charged, sparking outrage and protests in Kansas City.
What led up to the shooting?
Yarl's family said he was told to pick up his siblings from a friend's house on 115th Terrace, but he left his phone behind, and without the right address, accidentally went to 115th Street. It was around 10 p.m., and Yarl's family said after he knocked on the door, the homeowner opened the door and shot him twice — once in the head and once in the arm. "He mistakenly went to the wrong house," Yarl's aunt, Faith Spoonmore, wrote on GoFundMe. "He pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell. The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head." Yarl was able to run away from the property, but Spoonmore said he had to knock on three different doors before someone called 911.
The homeowner, identified on April 17 as 84-year-old Andrew Lester, told police officers that not long after he went to bed, he heard his doorbell ring. He looked and saw a Black male pulling on the locked storm door, and afraid he was going to get robbed, fired his Smith & Wesson .32-caliber pistol. The criminal complaint filed April 17 says Lester told police the "last thing he wanted to do" was shoot someone, but he "could not take the chance of the male coming in." Lester, the complaint stated, was "visibly upset and repeatedly expressed concern for the victim."
What did police do?
After the shooting, Lester was in police custody for 24 hours, then released. Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves told reporters that under state law, a person can be held for just 24 hours before either being formally charged or freed. When an arrest wasn't immediately made, protesters began gathering outside of Lester's home, some holding signs that read "Ringing A Doorbell Is Not A Crime."
Civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt are representing Yarl, and in an interview with CNN, Crump said, "We can only imagine if the roles were reversed, and you have a Black man shooting a 16-year-old white child who was simply ringing his doorbell, and the police took him in for questioning and let him come home and sleep in his bed at night. How much outrage would there be in America? It's unacceptable. We demand justice. Arrest the attempted murderer of this young Black child."
On April 17, Lester was charged with felony assault and armed criminal action. During a press conference, Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said there was "a racial component to the case," and officials "understand how frustrating this has been but I can assure you the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work."
What is Yarl's condition?
The teenager was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the head and chest, a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury, post-concussive syndrome, and injuries to his arm, Merritt told The Guardian. He underwent surgery to remove the bullets, his father, Paul Yarl, shared with The New York Times, and left the hospital on Sunday night. Paul Yarl said his son, now recuperating at home, is expected to make a full recovery.
Ralph Yarl enjoys playing the clarinet and video games, and is an honor student and all-state band member, his family said. Paul Yarl told Fox 4 Kansas City that his son is in "good spirits," and the family is relieved that charges have been filed against Lester. "That's what we requested, that's what we wanted, and that's what is happening, so we're happy," he said. Paul Yarl also questioned why the situation escalated so quickly, saying, "Man could've called police if he suspected something, he could've called 911. To shoot, that was wrong."
Missouri's gun laws
Under the state's "stand your ground" and "castle doctrine" laws, individuals who believe they are being threatened do not have to withdraw, but can only act in self-defense if there is "a reasonable fear of deadly force or assault," Kansas City attorney Kevin Jamison told The Washington Post. There has to be proof of a threat, and Jamison said a person knocking on a door or ringing a doorbell is not a legitimate reason to use deadly force against someone.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas agrees. "If 'stand your ground' really lets somebody just shoot somebody that rings a doorbell, that puts the life of every postal worker, every campaigner, every Amazon delivery person at risk in this country," he said.