The shooting of 16-year-old Black teenager Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri has sparked widespread support from civil rights advocates, celebrities, and local officials who are calling for justice in the case. Yarl was shot by Andrew Lester after he rang the doorbell of the wrong house. Yarl’s family members have said that he mistook Lester’s house for a home a block away where he was meant to pick up his twin brothers around 10 pm. When he rang the doorbell at the 84-year-old’s home, Lester opened fire, hitting Yarl twice in the head and arm.
Yarl’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, said her son was recovering at home after being released from the hospital. Despite having escaped a more devastating wound from the close range attack, Nagbe said the “injury is extensive and the residual effect of that injury [is] gonna stay with him for quite a while”.
Civil rights advocates and Yarl’s lawyers have questioned why Lester was initially released in the wake of the shooting and charged only four days later after protests drew national attention to the case. Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is representing Yarl’s family, said on Tuesday that he would meet with prosecutors later in the day to discuss why Lester was charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action and not attempted murder.
Several prominent celebrities have called for authorities to take action in the case. A GoFundMe account created by Yarl’s family to pay for hospital bills and future college expenses had reached nearly $2.8m on Tuesday. Yarl’s family has described him as a standout bass clarinet player and a leader of the school’s band who hoped to attend Texas A&M University to major in chemical engineering.
US President Joe Biden spoke to Yarl by phone on Monday, a call that his lawyers said included an invitation to visit the White House.
The shooting has drawn attention to Missouri’s so-called stand your ground law, which protects individuals if they use force “upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person”. The law notably says an individual “does not have a duty to retreat” before using force.
Versions of the law have been passed in at least 28 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The law was famously used in the defence that helped to acquit George Zimmerman in the 2012 deadly Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old.
Several protesters have compared Yarl’s case to Martin’s. While it was not immediately clear if Lester would pursue that defence, Yarl’s attorneys have already begun to push back on the notion that it would apply.
“We have to talk to these perpetrators and tell them that they need to quit profiling our children,” said civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is also representing the family. “We have to remain vigilant until there’s a conviction. Far too often we’ve seen charges where they shoot unarmed Black teenagers and scream ‘stand your ground’ and then the jury acquits them. So we are not going to start being relieved until we get a conviction.”