The white man accused of shooting a Black 16-year-old when the teen rang the doorbell of his house has surrendered to police in Clay County, Missouri, a day after charges were issued in the case that provoked nationwide outrage in the United States.
Andrew Lester, 84, was briefly held at the county detention center on Tuesday following his surrender, according to a statement from the local sheriff’s office. But he was later released on bond.
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Support, meanwhile, has poured in for 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, with civil rights advocates, celebrities and local officials calling for justice in the case.
Earlier on Tuesday, Yarl’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, said her son was recovering at home after being released from the hospital. Yarl’s family has said the teenager mistook Lester’s house for a home a block away, where he was meant to pick up his twin brothers around 10pm on April 13.
When he rang the doorbell, Lester opened fire, hitting Yarl twice in the head and arm.
Despite having escaped a more devastating wound from the close range attack, Nagbe said the “injury is extensive and the residual effect of that injury [is] gonna stay with him for quite a while”.
“He got a couple of bullets inside his body instead of a couple of twins coming out and giving him a hug,” Nagbe said during an interview on the CBS television network.
Since the attack, civil rights advocates and Yarl’s lawyers have questioned why Lester was initially released in the wake of the shooting and charged only four days later after protests drew national attention to the case.
Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is representing Yarl’s family, said on Tuesday that he would meet with prosecutors later in the day to discuss why Lester was not charged with attempted murder. The 84-year-old faces instead counts of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.
“We’re looking forward to speaking with federal prosecutors and investigators to see if this family’s civil rights were violated, particularly in terms of due process,” he said, speaking beside Nagbe. “We expect all families who are met with this kind of trauma to get an immediate police response and a vigorous prosecution. That’s not what this family was given before there was national outcry.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Gwen Grant, the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said the group would be calling for a federal hate crimes investigation. But, she added, the group also demanded to know why Lester was initially released and why he wasn’t taken into custody immediately after he was charged.
“We have a race problem in Missouri and Kansas City in the United States. Clearly, you know it all points to the fact that the Black people in America have to deal with this type of racism and discrimination daily,” she said.
“And then you have a law enforcement system that is still protecting, in my view, the assailant,” she said. “There is no way you can convince me and probably any other Black person that had the shooter been Black and the victim been a white teenage kid, that the Black shooter would have been released.”
Andrew Lester, charged in the shooting of Ralph Yarl, has surrendered at our Detention Center. He is in custody.
— Clay County, Missouri Sheriff (@SheriffClayCo) April 18, 2023
For his part, county Prosecutor Zachary Thompson has maintained that the “justice system is working”. He acknowledged on Monday the incident had “a racial component”, without elaborating.
Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves had previously told reporters that Lester was released after the attack because investigators still needed to collect more evidence and he had reached the 24-hour maximum for being held without being charged.
Outrage grew in the days between the shooting and the charges, with several prominent celebrities calling for authorities to take action.
“His name is #RalphYarl and I’m sick and tired of this feeling,” actor Halle Berry wrote on Twitter in a post that included the contact information for Thompson’s office.
In a video posted online, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said: “My prayers are for him first and his recovery, and hopefully, the justice system does right by him and everyone involved.”
A GoFundMe account created by Yarl’s family to pay for hospital bills and future college expenses had reached nearly $2.8m on Tuesday. Yarl’s family has described him as a standout bass clarinet player and a leader of the school’s band who hoped to attend Texas A&M University to major in chemical engineering.
“It’s on us to support justice in this case and to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted.
It’s on us to support justice in this case and to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) April 18, 2023
US President Joe Biden spoke to Yarl by phone on Monday, a call that his lawyers said included an invitation to visit the White House.
The shooting has drawn attention to Missouri’s so-called stand your ground law, which protects individuals if they use force “upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person”.
The law notably says an individual “does not have a duty to retreat” before using force.
Versions of the law have been passed in at least 28 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The law was famously used in the defence that helped to acquit George Zimmerman in the 2012 deadly Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old.
Several protesters have compared Yarl’s case to Martin’s.
If arrested and charged, the White male shooter will almost certainly deploy Missouri’s stand-your-ground law to claim (White) homeowners have a right to murder (Black) children who mistakenly ring their door bells. Because racist violence is usually projected as self-defense. 2/ pic.twitter.com/tMCYRWF3lt
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) April 17, 2023
While it was not immediately clear if Lester would pursue that defence, Yarl’s attorneys have already begun to push back on the notion that it would apply.
“You’re ringing the doorbell. You’re not banging on the door. You’re not doing anything that is malicious or aggressive,” civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is also representing the family, told the Atlanta, Georgia-based Scripps News network. “We have to talk to these perpetrators and tell them that they need to quit profiling our children.”
“We have to remain vigilant until there’s a conviction,” he added. “Far too often we’ve seen charges where they shoot unarmed Black teenagers and scream ‘stand your ground’ and then the jury acquits them. So we are not going to start being relieved until we get a conviction.”