A lawyer for the family of Ralph Yarl, the Black 16-year-old who was shot by a white man in Kansas City, Missouri, after ringing his doorbell by mistake, said the case should qualify as a hate crime.
“Ralph Yarl was shot because he was armed with nothing but other than his Black skin,” Lee Merritt told the Associated Press.
Activists in Kansas City and civil rights leaders nationwide have called for Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old homeowner, to be charged with such an offense.
But the Clay county prosecuting attorney, Zachary Thompson, has said first-degree assault, with which Lester is charged, is a higher-level charge, as it carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Merritt also said the Yarl family was upset that Lester was only held in custody for two hours after the shooting last Thursday, when authorities could have held him for up to 24 hours.
Lester turned himself in on Tuesday, then was freed on a $200,000 bond.
Protesters have rallied in downtown Kansas City and in Lester’s neighborhood. On Tuesday, students from Staley high school, which Ralph attends, led a 1,500-person walkout. Some chanted: “Justice for Ralph.”
Representatives from the school’s Black student union said the walk was their way of showing support for their classmate as he recovered from his wounds.
“We wanted to show Ralph that we stand with him and to spread awareness about his situation and know that his school will stand by his side and support him,” one senior at Staley and a Black student union member, identified as Cayla, told KMBC.
On Wednesday morning, Merritt, the attorney, told CNN Ralph’s prospects for recovery were “very, very positive”, despite likely scarring and post-traumatic brain injury symptoms.
“Thursday night, doctors were scraping … bullet fragments off his brain,” Merritt said. “Saturday, he was released from the hospital.”
Lester was charged with assault in the first degree – under Missouri law, the charge for attempted murder – and armed criminal action.
Legal experts believe attorneys for Lester will claim self-defense under Missouri’s “stand your ground” law. The law allows the use of deadly force if a person believes their life is in danger. Such laws are on the statute books in about 30 states.
Daniel Ludwig, the suspect’s grandson, who has described himself as very close to his grandfather, said he believed Lester thought he was in danger.
But the shooting “never should have happened”, Ludwig told the Daily Beast.
“I’d go to visit my grandpa, and I would get lost on those streets,” Ludwig said. “It’s easy to do. They all look the same and everything.”
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