Written by Diontre Davis, International Chair of the Young People Advisory Board
On April 13, a Black teenager was shot in Kansas City, Missouri, after accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings in the city’s Northland neighborhood. Although police did not initially name the victim, his relatives identified him on social media and to reporters as 16-year-old Ralph Yarl.
Following the attack, hundreds of protesters marched to the home where Yarl was shot, where they chanted for justice and demanded that the shooter be prosecuted. Days later, prosecutors identified the shooter as Andrew D. Lester, an 84-year-old man. Zachary
It’s truly sad to see and witness yet another innocent, Black child treated as a threat and inhuman. Witnessing Ralph Yarl nearly be killed and the trauma he experienced from the hand of someone who was careless with a deadly weapon is another blatant reason for why there needs to be gun reform. Yarl is a victim as a result of a person’s entitlement toward being able to use deadly force. According to a Race, Justifiable Homicide, and Stand Your Ground Laws by the Urban Institute, the justification of a white person killing someone Black and being considered legally justified is 281% greater than a white person killing another white person. The current legal protections that are in place for gun owners to take such irrational and dangerous actions put the lives of African Americans.
Ralph Yarl, is a 16-year old honors student from Kansas City, Missouri who was just trying to pick up his younger brothers, but was seen as a threat due to a man’s paranoia. His life was in jeopardy because of said man’s lack of caution when it came to utilizing his gun. Yarl made the honest mistake of going to the wrong address from where his siblings were located and innocently rang the doorbell to the homeowner, Andrew Lester. Lester jumped to the assumption that Yarl was breaking into his house, despite the fact that he was right in front of his door, politely rang the doorbell, and waited outside. Lester grabbed his gun and “without saying a word” he shot Yarl twice, one time in the head and another in his arm. Yarl reasonably fled for his life after being assaulted by a deadly weapon. Lester even shared with the police in his report of the incident that he screamed, “Don’t come around here” to Yarl as he fled for his life. Ralph’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, gave presented this statement when a CBS News reporter interviewed her:
“He went and rang the doorbell. And he was supposed to stay outside, and his brothers were supposed to run outside, get in the car and they come home,” Nagbe said. “While he was standing there, his brothers didn’t run outside, but he got a couple of bullets in his body instead of a couple of twins coming up, out, and giving him a hug.”
This is a tragic situation because it could have easily been someone else’s child in this predicament. There is also the strong possibility that this was a hate crime due to a “racial component” based on the actions and judgment of Lester. Ralph is recovering from his near death experience, but is traumatized by the experience:“You can see that he is just replaying the situation over and over again, and that just doesn’t stop my tears either,” Cleo Nagbe shared. The situation calls for the need to reform the access to guns that ordinary citizens have access to and to change the policies that allow them the right to use such weapons based on a person’s perception of being in danger.
One of the largest protections for the reckless uses of guns that needs to be addressed in the “Stand Your Ground Law.” There are at least 28 states that have this law in place to defend the rights of people to protect themselves with deadly force. Robert Spitzer, a political science professor from New York University, has done extensive research into gun policy and politics and stated the Missouri law in particular provides a “wide latitude for people to use lethal force.” St. Louis prosecutor, Nina McDonnel, believes Ralph’s family and the civil rights attorney’s defending them have a strong case, but the “stand your ground” law will be a big obstacle. The law itself exacerbates gun violence. The Journal of Medical Association published a 2022 study guide that reveals the stand your ground law increases firearm homicide rates by 11%. The law itself puts more lives at risk, and the worst part about it is the amount of Black victims who are at risk just like Ralph was due to racial profiling. Ralph’s circumstances are very reminiscent of the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, one of the first applications of this law, and clearly racially motivated.
There needs to be policies put in place that undue the protections and justifications of gun owners to use deadly force against another person. It has been shown repeatedly that this causes more harm than protection and imposes a constant looming threat to Black children that removes the basic comfort of just walking down the street in their own city. Additionally, the Tennessee Legislature that would protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers, and sellers against lawsuits. This Tennessee bill could also become a potential trend that is passed in several states that can increase the amount of people using the “Stand Your Ground” law as justification to not be held accountable for their reckless actions. In addition, legislators against gun regulation turned off the mics of two Black Representatives on the Tennessee House Floor, Justin Jones and Justin J Pearson. Representative Jones and Pearson were advocating for increased gun control in response to the 2023 Nashville School Shooting, their colleagues expelled them from the Tennessee House. Not only do we need to address the policies in place but replacing those who would propose such laws. We need to bring to attention the dangers of political figures who are silencing, and ostracizing their peers for recommending comprehensive gun safety for our children and communities. For the future and safety of the current and next generation we need more comprehensive gun safety legislation.