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A Black Kansas City organizer on the Ralph Yarl shooting: 'This hits home'

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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
Faith Spoonmore (right), aunt of Ralph Yarl, said he is alive and healing. But she wants the shooter to face charges for what she says is a hate crime. Justice Gatson (left) said the Kansas City Police do not protect Black people.

Justice Gatson, founder and director of Reale Justice Network, said it’s been an emotional several days for Kansas City Black communities. Gatson was one of hundreds of protesters who have been calling on the Kansas City Police Department to arrest Ralph Yarl's shooter — and now she's calling on the police chief to resign.

Justice Gatson said she felt physically ill when she heard the news last week about Ralph Yarl, the Black 16-year-old who was shot in Kansas City's Northland when he mistakenly showed up at the wrong house while trying to pick up his twin brothers.

“I just felt the worst pain in my stomach. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath,” Gatson said on KCUR's Up To Date on Tuesday. “We all had this feeling of doom and worry that we might lose this young man, and thinking about what that might mean for our community.”

Yarl was shot on top of his left eye and again in the upper right arm by Andrew Lester, a white 84-year-old man. Yarl was released from the hospital over the weekend and has been recovering at home.

“He should have been practicing his instruments today or engaged in something else, not having to recover from being shot just for ringing the wrong doorbell,” Gatson said.

Lester was finally arrested on Tuesday afternoon, but left jail on bond.

Gaston is calling for Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves to resign for handling the Yarl case "horribly."

"She has a disconnect with the community overall,” Gaston said. “There are lots of things that she needs to work on. I daresay she needs to go.”

Graves just took the position of KCPD chief in December. A 25-year veteran of the department, Graves is the first woman to hold the position in a permanent role, but the hiring process was highly criticized for lacking transparency and community input.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
As an assistant producer on Up To Date, my goal is to amplify voices of people who serve as pioneers in their respective fields while shedding light on issues that affect underserved communities. I produce daily conversations to uplift and inspire the people of the Kansas City area to make the world a better place. You can reach me at reginalddavid@kcur.org.
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