Kansas City, Missouri, activists and the family of a Black teen who was shot in the head by a white homeowner are frustrated by the investigation and question why it took so long for the shooter to be charged.
The Clay County prosecutor’s office announced charges Monday against Andrew Lester and said there was a “racial component,” but didn’t elaborate. The 85-year-old was initially questioned after the April 13 shooting and released after 24 hours — which outraged the community and Ralph Yarl’s family.
Lester faces 10 years to life in prison for first-degree assault and armed criminal action, accused of using a revolver to shoot the 16-year-old in the head and arm. An arrest warrant has been issued, and Lester turned himself in on Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier on Monday, Ralph’s father told KCTV5 that his son was discharged from the hospital.
On Sunday, his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, said in a video: “All I can think is if that was a Black man that had shot a white kid, would that Black man be standing in front of his house cleaning up.” She added, “We don’t need to wait for Black boys to die for us to say enough is enough.”
“It is not enough to conduct an investigation; we must take a critical look at the root causes of violence in our communities and address the deep-seated issues of racial inequality that fuel it,” a spokesperson from Decarcerate KC, a grassroots community group, said in a statement to Capital B.
On April 13, Ralph drove a few blocks away from his home to pick up his two younger brothers from a friend’s house but arrived at the wrong address and rang the doorbell. According to his aunt, “a man opened up the door, looked him in the eye and … shot him in the head.”
Ralph’s shooting is reminiscent of previous incidents where Black people have been killed by white people. The investigative details of Ralph’s case are eerily similar to the October 2022 shooting death of 13-year-old Sinzae Reed in Columbus, Ohio. Krieg Allen Butler, the suspect in Sinzae’s case, admitted to the shooting but was released days later by investigators once prosecutors learned that Butler said he was acting in self-defense. The “stand your ground” laws in Ohio have stumped Sinzae’s family and the community’s calls for justice as Butler has remained free.
In Ralph’s shooting, Kansas City police took the shooter into custody as they processed the evidence at the scene in the Northland neighborhood.
Missouri law requires suspects to be released from custody if there isn’t enough information collected by investigators to charge them, said Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves at a Sunday press conference. After consulting with Clay County prosecutors, the shooter was released because they need a statement from Ralph, who was still recovering from his injuries.
Local activist Bishop Tony Caldwell is unsure the police department as a whole wasn’t operating through a racially biased lens.
“It is appalling to me. Here is a young man who is fighting for his life, and they just let the shooter go. … It’s apparent that we pick and choose who to prosecute and who not to prosecute, who to take to jail and who not to take to jail,” said Caldwell, founder of the Justice and Dignity Center.
“There is a lot of tension in Kansas City in the Black community right now. Race relations are at an all-time low with people of color, [as] brown skin is being misused, attacked, persecuted, and murdered,” said Caldwell, who is calling on the Justice Department to launch a pattern and practice investigation into the police department and prosecutor’s office for targeting and ignoring the Black community.
The spokesperson for Decarcerate KC says the handling of Ralph’s shooting depicts the systemic racism of the police department that “runs deep in our neighborhoods” and goes beyond this case.
“This tragedy serves as a reminder that police do not serve and protect Black people. A system designed to protect white supremacy can never be held accountable,” the spokesperson said on behalf of the organization, which focuses on changing issues within the incarceration and policing systems in Kansas City.
Civil rights attorneys S. Lee Merritt and Ben Crump said on Sunday that they will take on Ralph’s case pro bono.
“There is no excuse for the release of this armed and dangerous suspect after admitting to shooting an unarmed, non-threatening, and defenseless teenager that rang his doorbell,” Crump said in a statement on Monday before the charges were announced. “We demand swift action from Clay County prosecutors and law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute to the full extent of the law the man responsible for this horrendous and unjustifiable shooting.”
The People’s Coalition, a local activist group, organized a “mass protest” Sunday in the city’s Northland neighborhood, where the shooting took place, and dozens of residents showed up calling for justice, according to the Kansas City Defender.
The Justice and Dignity Center is expected to host a community meeting Monday evening, and The People’s Coalition has scheduled a protest for Tuesday afternoon at police headquarters.
What happened to the rising star?
Ralph is described by his teachers and friends as “‘a kind soul, quiet, friendly, well-mannered, always willing to help, super smart, and a musical genius,’” according to a GoFundMe campaign that Spoonmore, his aunt, launched on Sunday to cover his expected medical bills and mental health treatments as well as his higher education goals. Capital B has reached out to Spoonmore for comment.
Although Ralph is a top bass clarinet player, his ultimate goal is to obtain a music scholarship to Texas A&M University to study chemical engineering, Spoonmore wrote about Ralph, who she calls “a fantastic kid.”
Last week, Ralph’s mother gave him driving directions on where to pick up his twin little brothers from their friend’s house that was located a few blocks away from their home. According to FOX4KC, Ralph was supposed to go to a home on NE 115th Terrace, but instead drove to a home a block over on NE 115th Street. When the teen rang the doorbell, no words were exchanged between Lester and Ralph. Lester said that within seconds of opening the door, he fired two rounds. The teen was shot once in the head through the patio door, according to the probable cause documents.
Lester told police that he armed himself with a gun when he heard the doorbell after 11 p.m. He was “scared to death” when he saw who he described as a 6-foot tall Black man standing outside of his front door and thought he was trying to break in, according to Lester’s statement’s to police.
As Ralph stumbled to the ground, the shooter allegedly fired a second shot into his arm. As the teen fled, Lester allegedly said “don’t come around here,” according to Ralph’s statements to police. Ralph miraculously was able to get away from the assailant and get help from a neighbor.
“Unfortunately, he had to run to 3 different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up,” Spoonmore wrote on the campaign page.
Spoonmore says the shooter attempted to kill her nephew because he was a Black person on his property.
Caldwell says that if the shooter evokes the state’s stand your ground law as his reason for shooting Ralph, it should not be taken seriously.
“This kid was 120 pounds soaking wet, and you’re in fear of your life? We don’t believe that. This was a clear racial shooting. He saw an opportunity and he took it, and he needs to be brought to justice,” Caldwell said.
While Ralph’s life may look different going forward, he is their family’s “miracle. We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most black boys are not alive to get another chance,” Spoonmore wrote.
This story has been updated to reflect that Lester has turned himself in to authorities.