Protesters rally in downtown Kansas City to demand justice for Ralph Yarl
National civil rights leaders, local activists and community leaders held a press conference and led protestors Tuesday afternoon outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Kansas City. They showed up to decry last week’s shooting of a Black teenager after he rang the wrong doorbell in a Northland neighborhood.
Hundreds of protesters descended upon the Charles Evans Whittaker Federal Courthouse in downtown Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon. They were angry over what they said was racism displayed by 84-year-old Andrew D. Lester, who has been charged with two felony counts in the shooting of Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old who rang his doorbell. Protesters said law enforcement’s handling of the shooting showed a double standard in the criminal justice system.
“The fetishization of crime and punishment is why the white vigilante is someone who can actively punish Black people and be rewarded for it,” said Simon Connor, an 18-year-old Rockhurst High School senior who led a group of his classmates in protest.
“You feel guilty. We know he was shot simply because he was Black. I don't have to walk the street and worry about being a victim of racially motivated violence,” said Connor, who is Filipino-American.
Connor was one of many young people who came to the protest organized by the Kansas City Defender.
Lester was identified as the shooter on Monday. He was allowed to turn himself in the following day, five days after he shot Yarl through the glass screen door of his home at 1100 NE 115th St.
“There is no denying the racial component to this shooting. We cannot deny that the state of Missouri is one of the most unsafe places for Black people in America,” said Vernon Howard, president of the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“There is no denying that many communities north of the river are predominantly white, and they don’t want us there,” Howard said.
Howard noted the NAACP’s travel advisory for the state of Missouri, which in 2017 became the first state in the civil rights organization’s history that was labeled hazardous for Black people to travel through.
Northland resident Yara Salamed, 21, said as someone of Palestinian descent, her family feels that terror every day.
“In our area, there tends to be a good amount of people who are pretty racist. So I wasn't surprised by the situation,” said Salamed. “But I was very disturbed by it as a Palestinian, because whenever I look at the pain and struggle of the Black community here, I see a reflection of what happens to Palestinians.”
Salamed also said her younger sister is a classmate of Yarl at Staley High School.
“She told me today a lot of students were crying, people were really upset about it and school officials came to check on how students felt about this happening to someone they knew,” said Salamed, who was surrounded by protestors following the chants of the lead organizers.
“It was heartbreaking and traumatizing for them, and I know that she is definitely bothered by the situation,” Salamed said of her sister.
Shawn McGuire, 31, is a Black man and a lifelong Kansas Citian who works for CertainTeed in Kansas City, Kansas.
He came to the protest after leaving work, and said the situation reminded him of stories about the Jim Crow era he read in books and heard from his elders.
“I hate to put it like this, but look at his age group. They come from an era where there was a lot of hate against Blacks,” McGuire said of Lester.
“There was no excuse for him to shoot through a door and then come stand over his body and shoot him again. His goal was to murder this Black kid, which is a hate crime.”