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'Should've been buried in the past': KC Black Archives explain 'racism,' outrage in Ralph Yarl shooting

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-21 23:24:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Ralph Yarl went to pick up his siblings from a friend’s home, his family never imagined what would happen after he rang the wrong doorbell.

The 16-year-old Black teen was shot in the head and is now on a journey of healing.

As many in the community voice support, they are also vocalizing concerns about the shooter’s explanation to investigators.

The accused shooter, 84-year-old Andrew Lester, claimed he was “scared to death” when he saw Yarl at the door, per court documents

“There was nothing about that young man … that boy that was threatening, just that he was Black," said Dr. Carmaletta Williams, CEO of Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City. "He showed up at somebody’s door, it was a mistake, the addresses were the same and he was looking for his brothers. To say you were threatened by someone and the only weapon was their Blackness ... is unconscionable."

Court documents report no words were exchanged before shots were fired. Although, Yarl recalls Lester said, "Don’t come around here," after firing off shots.

“It’s the weaponization of Blackness itself that’s really what we feel this is about," said Lee Merritt, the Yarl family's attorney.

Williams says this stereotype is not new. In fact, she says examples of past prejudice live in the Black Archives.

“We’ve all seen the images … the iconic images of the buses blown up and burned simply because the people on them were Black. That was 60 years ago or more, and we haven’t crossed that bridge yet or made those steps that allow us to be fully human," Williams said. "When that is still an issue, we are not fully human. And I don’t mean Black people … I mean our community."

She says she sees progress in marches, protests and support shown nationwide for Yarl.

“There were so many people who were not BIPOC, not Black Indigenous People of Color, white people who were there saying this is wrong. That’s a positive wonderful step toward correcting it," Williams said.

As a former professor and Black mother, Williams says Yarl's shooting makes her reflect on conversations she has had with her family.

“I have two Black sons and three Black grandsons, and we’ve all given them the driving while Black talk: how to protect yourself, how do you tell your young Black —any age Black children — you can’t knock on a door?” Williams said.

Andrew Lester is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday and will be back in court June 1.