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Kansas City-area organizations rally at KCMO federal courthouse, call for hate crime charges in Yarl shooting

Civil rights organizations in Kansas City hold press conference for Ralph Yarl
Posted at 5:50 PM, Apr 18, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City-area organizations rallied at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday afternoon demanding federal hate crime charges against Andrew Lester regarding the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl last week.

Organization leaders said this is "just day two" in a "long process for justice for Ralph Yarl."

“We are delighted that charges were filed against Andrew Lester," said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. "We were disappointed that Andrew Lester had the opportunity to practically escape justice. We are glad he is now in custody.”

On April 13, Yarl meant to go to a house in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Terrace to pick up his two younger brothers just before 10 p.m., but mistakenly went to a house one block away.

The homeowner, Lester, responded to the front door armed with a Smith and Wesson .32-caliber revolver after Yarl rang the doorbell.

Lester, who is White, saw Yarl, who is Black, on his front porch and shot him in the head through a glass storm door. Yarl fell to the ground and Lester shot the teen a second time in the arm, according to the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department.

Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said Monday there was a racial component to the shooting, but did not elaborate.

"We believe this was a race and hate motivated crime, and we want the federal government, the FBI, to conduct a hate crime investigation," Grant said. "That is of the essence here. We want the people to know that you will pay a severe price if you shoot someone for ringing your doorbell, simply because of the color of their skin. I don’t see any evidence that this man has shot anyone other than a Black person for ringing his doorbell, so clearly, that is a hate motivated crime.”

In a passionate speech, Dr. Vernon Howard, with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, agreed investigators need to look in whether race and hate was a motive in the shooting.

According to the probable cause statement, Lester believed Yarl was trying to break into his home.

Yarl, who was taken to an area hospital with critical injuries on Thursday, has been released from the hospital and is currently recovering at home, according to his family.

Critics are questioning why Lester was only detained for a couple hours compared to a full 24-hour investigative hold, and why he was released and able to turn himself in. Speakers at the rally said Lester's whereabouts were unknown until he turned himself in Tuesday.

KCPD Chief Stacey Graves said Lester was taken into custody after the incident and was placed on a 24-hour investigative hold.

Per Missouri law, a person can be held for up to 24 hours for investigation of a felony, and after 24 hours have passed, the individual is required to be charged or released.

On April 18, Lester was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He turned himself in Tuesday to the Clay County Detention Center. He posted bond shortly after on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

He faces 10 to 30 years in prison for the assault charge and between three to 15 years for the armed criminal action charge.

Both hate crime charges and attempted murder charges in the state of Missouri would equate in a shorter sentence than the two charges that have been filed against Lester.

“What is real justice? I’m glad you asked,” Howard said. “That never again. Never again. Never again. Never again. Never again, in the name of Jesus Christ, will hate and racism take away the health, beauty and future of a Black child.”