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Hundreds demand hate crime charges against Kansas City man who shot Black teen

A woman in a yellow hoodie stands and looks at a woman in a purple hoodie with a grey vest over it. Behind them are people looking solemn.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
Ralph Yarl was shot Thursday when he mistakenly rang the doorbell of a home in Clay County. He was trying to pick up his brothers, who were at an address about a block away. Yarl is currently recovering at a local hospital.

Protesters demanded the shooter's arrest and said Kansas City police don't do enough to protect Black children. Police Chief Stacey Graves said they need a statement from the victim before they can proceed with any possible charges.

Hundreds of people gathered at NE 115th Street in Kansas City’s Northland to protest the shooting of a 16-year-old boy last week. As they stood in front of the house where he was shot, protestors chanted for justice and demanded prosecution of the shooter for what they called a hate crime.

The boy, who family has identified as Ralph Yarl, was on his way to pick up his twin brothers from a friend's house and arrived at the wrong address, about a block away.

According to a Go Fund Me by his aunt Faith Spoonmore, after Yarl rang the doorbell at the wrong address, the resident of the home shot him in the head through a glass door and again after he fell to the ground.

Yarl is in the hospital in critical condition, but alive, according to the family. The shooter is currently free. They have not yet been charged with a crime.

Justice Gatson, founder and director of Reale Justice Network, said Yarl’s case is proof that law enforcement doesn’t adequately protect Black people.

“We cannot and we will not be silent when Black children are under attack,” Gatson said. “As a mother of three children, this enrages me. My son delivers food every morning. And sometimes you go to the wrong address. You should never have to worry that your life will be taken.”

While protesters demanded justice, they also rallied around Yarl and his family. Spoonmore thanked the protestors and said she hoped the event would show the shooter that he won’t get away with it.

“Ralph will feel a lot of love because this is a lot of people,” Spoonmore said. “This is exactly what that man (the shooter) did not want to happen today. But you know what? Ralph is alive. He is healing. It is not the story that that individual intended for us to tell. We are telling a story that is different from the stories that you normally hear — he is healing. We have a lot to be thankful for that. There is a lot of hate. This right here is a lot of love and that is what God intentioned when he saved his life from over there.”

The family have retained prominent civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt.

A Black teen, wearing a black suit jacket, looks straight ahead while holding a wind instrument. In the background are members of a high school band.
Faith Spoonmore
/
GoFundMe
Ralph Yarl was shot Thursday, April 13 when he mistakenly rang the doorbell of a home in Clay County. He was picking up his brothers, who were at an address about a block away.

According to police, officers were called to a residence in Clay County on April 13 just before 10 p.m. where Yarl was shot in front of a house by the resident. He was transported to a hospital for his injuries, which were described as life-threatening.

Police did not confirm how many times Yarl was shot.

The resident of the home was taken into custody and placed on a 24-hour hold, according to police. Detectives processed the scene and recovered the firearm. The shooter was released after the hold.

As protesters were gathering at the scene of the incident, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves held a press conference at police headquarters downtown. She said the shooter was released pending further investigation because they needed a formal statement from the victim and to gather more forensic evidence before sending a case file to the Clay County prosecutor. Graves said that statement is planned as soon as Yarl is recovered enough from his injuries.

“The vast majority of cases to include violent crime involve the suspect being released, pending further investigation. In this case, the prosecutor requires more information from investigators that would take more than 24 hours to compile,” Graves said. “We recognize the frustration this can cause in the entire criminal justice process.”

Missouri passed a “Stand Your Ground” bill in 2016. Under the law, a person may use physical force if they reasonably believe they are under threat and have no duty to retreat. According to a study released last year, homicides drastically rose in Missouri after the law was enacted.

Dee Porter, an organizer with The People’s Coalition, helped plan the protest. Yarl’s family and protestors believe the shooter left town after being released from police custody. Porter said that should have never been allowed to happen.

“I need them to hold him accountable, he needs to be prosecuted,” Porter said. “This is a child. He didn't appear scary to me. Something has to be done because (Yarl) posed no threat. He should not be allowed to sit in his home and take a vacation. I heard he's in a cabin somewhere, but he needs to be prosecuted.”

Graves said KCPD was not concerned that the shooter was a flight risk.

She said the department has been in touch with Yarl’s family and have been informing them about the process moving forward. Graves, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said several times during the press conference that a thorough and full investigation is underway.

While she did not confirm the race of the shooter, Graves said she knew the racial tension that is at play. In video messages shared by the Kansas City Defender, Spoonmore says the person who answered the door was white.

“As chief of police, I do recognize the racial components of this case. I do recognize and understand the community's concern and the community's response to this particular incident,” Graves said.

People stand holding posters while shouting
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
Hundreds gathered outside the home of a Northland man who shot a Black teen last week after he rang the doorbell. Police let the shooter go with no charges after a 24-hour hold, but protestors are demanding charges.

Theo Davis, a pastor with Restore Community Church, where Spoonmore attends, told KCUR he hopes the shooting will be a turning point in Kansas City.

“I hope that more attention can get brought to the surface of the racial tension that's in Kansas City as well as the rest of our nation because it's always just bubbling just below the surface," Davis said. "I hope people, my white siblings, are not easily offended every time someone brings up the possibility of racism. Because the reality is that racism is something that happens on a daily basis in our community. We need to listen to each other's stories and adapt so that we can avoid more tragedies from happening.”

Lucas said the department is aware of race in this investigation — more so, he alluded, than the department under previous KCPD leadership.

“Part of the reason I think you see the department here and speaking is one, to make clear — in perhaps ways different from the past — that that is understood. I know that there are officers who are present actually at the community event now and not there as security, not there to defend homes, instead there to listen and to engage with the people who are there, the people who have concerns,” Lucas said. Lucas also reiterated that KCPD is taking this case seriously.

“This is not something that has been dismissed, marginalized and diminished in any way. This is getting the full attention of the Kansas City Police Department and while tragically not the only shooting last week in Kansas City, it's one that is getting substantial attention.”

Protestor Daryl Baker said the fact that the shooter has not been charged yet shows a lack of urgency on the side of the KCPD in getting justice for Yarl.

“I believe that a precedent needs to be set (with an arrest),” Baker said. “We're all neighbors to one another. And it's not uncommon for someone to ring a doorbell, but that shouldn't equate to someone being shot. In being good neighbors, we have to exist together. It could be anyone that something like this occurs and happens to.”

Yarl’s family described him as a quiet and gentle kid who loved music. He is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympiad Team, according to the family’s GoFundMe page.

He is also in his school’s jazz and competition band and a section leader in the marching band. Yarl recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition and plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra.

Spoonmore believes her nephew will make a full recovery, but she said most Black boys who are subjected to violence like this aren’t as lucky. She said she knows Yarl will feel the love of the protestors as he eventually works towards physical, mental and emotional healing from the attack.

“We have a great community and we're celebrating that,” Spoonmore said. “He's healing, and this is about love. Right now he is alive and he's healing.”

Corrected: April 17, 2023 at 11:00 AM CDT
A previous version of the story referred to the shooter as the homeowner. It is not yet known whether the resident of the house owned the home.
Updated: April 17, 2023 at 11:00 AM CDT
This story has been updated to include two prominent civil rights attorneys who have been retained by Yarl's family.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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