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Shooting of 16-year-old Black teenager is a direct result of GOP’s weaponization of racism and GOP's “Stand Your Ground” laws
We will see more of this
Sixteen year-old high school junior Ralph Yarl is an “excellent student and talented musician” who “maintains a stellar GPA while taking mostly college level courses.” Last year, Yarl--who attends Staley High School in North Kansas City--was chosen as “one of the 330 rising high school juniors to attend the Missouri Scholars Academy…for the academically gifted.” He is also a member of his school’s jazz and competition band and plans to attend college.
But all 85-old Andrew Lester—who is white--saw when Yarl mistakenly knocked on his door last Thursday evening was a threat. In fact, he told the police that seeing Yarl at his doorstep caused him to become “scared to death.” Thus, Lester grabbed his gun, went to the door and shot Yarl twice before even saying a word.
The general facts surrounding this shooting are not in dispute. Yarl headed out from his home-as the request of his mother—to pick up his 11-year-old twin brothers from a friend's home at 115th Terrace in Kansas City. However, Yarl mistakenly went to Lester’s house located at 115th Street—not “Terrace”. Once he arrived, Yarl rang the bell and waited. That is when Lester—without uttering a word—opened his door and fired a shot striking the teenager in the head. With Yarl on the ground after being shot, Lester fired again striking the teen in the arm as he warned, “Don’t come back around here.”
There’s a straight line between this shooting and the GOP for various reasons. First, we’ve seen the GOP traffic in racism when it comes to crime for decades. One of the most vivid examples dates back to the infamous Willie Horton campaign ad during the 1988 presidential race against Democrat Mike Dukakis that featured a Black man who was released from a Massachusetts prison on a furlough program and went on to rape a white woman. These very type of GOP ads continue through today with countless ones running during the 2022 election cycle that warned of increasing crime while showing Black faces on the screen. The GOP has radicalized their supporters to believe that a Black face at the door is a deadly threat.
From there, the GOP have opposed any laws to reduce access to guns while at same time enacting “Stand your ground” laws—like in Missouri where this shooting took place. Under Missouri’s version of the GOP championed “Stand your Ground” law, a person is legally empowered to use force—even deadly-- when confronted with an “imminent” use of “unlawful force” against them. (There’s also in Missouri and other states what is known as the “Castle Doctrine” enabling a person to use force to protect their home but it’s the “Stand Your Ground” laws which have garnered the media attention in recent years.)
The result is a deadly cocktail of overly armed, frightened white Republicans who when they see a Black person at their door believe thanks to the Stand your ground laws they can shoot first and ask questions later.
Add to that, Republican officials have very publicly stood with members of the white right when they have engaged in crimes, especially when directed at communities they dislike. For example, this shooting occurred in the same state where Mark and Patricia McCloskey were charged in 2020 with crimes for waving an AR-15 and other guns at a group of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home. After that incident, the two were defended and celebrated by Donald Trump and the GOP. The couple were even invited to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention where Patricia McCloskey stated, “No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.” She added, “What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”
After the two plead guilty to charges that had been downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors, the GOP governor of Missouri pardoned them in 2021—just as he had been promising.
And worse, just two weeks ago, GOP Texas Governor Greg Abbott—as I wrote about—declared he would pardon a white man who had been convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester. This pardon came after Tucker Carlson and other GOP officials called for Abbott to do so—not because there were legal errors in the trial but because the GOP wanted to defend one of their own.
Republican officials are sending a clear message: If you are part of the white right and you brandish a weapon--or even kill those who oppose us politically--we have your back. That is the climate in which Thursday’s shooting of a 16-year-old Black teen happened.
There’s no dispute race played a role in the shooting of Yarl, who has been described as a “terrific kid.” Even the prosecutor who charged Lester with two felonies stated, “There was a racial component to this case.” On Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas reiterated that very point on CNN stating, “This boy was shot because he was existing while Black,” adding, “And he knocked on the door of someone who clearly, clearly fears Black people.”
In fact, Lester expressly mentioned Yarl’s race when speaking to the police after the shooting, telling them that he “saw a Black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle.” Despite Yarl being behind two locked doors, Lester admittedly “shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door.” And conjuring up how police officers in the past justified shootings, Lester claimed it was self-defense since he “believed he was protecting himself from a physical confrontation.”
Thankfully, Yarl—per his mother on Tuesday morning—is doing “considerably well.” However, given he was shot in the head and the bullet entered his frontal lobe, the injuries will remain with him “for a quiet a while.”
The question for me is not will this happen again. We all know it will because that is the climate the GOP has intentionally created. The question is: Will GOP officials rally to defend Lester because he is one of theirs? Everything tells me we can expect at least a few Republicans to do just that. After all, Lester is a member of the white right who shot a Black person.
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