Images: Ralph Yarl, photo from Faith Spoonmore GoFundMe / Family photo of Jayland Walker; Ralph Yarl, family photo
Originally published in the People’s World on April 21, 2023
Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black youth, was shot twice on April 13 in Kansas City, Mo., by 85-year-old Andrew Lester after Yarl rang his doorbell. Yarl was released from the hospital on April 17. Lester faces charges of assault in the first degree and criminal action. Clay County attorney Zachary Thompson said, “I can tell you there was a racial component to this case.”
In a parallel struggle, the police who shot another Black youth, Jayland Walker, at least 40 times in Akron, Ohio, face no charges.
Such instances of systemic racism and individual racist actions are being met by continuing, repeated democratic demands from activists for justice, community control, and an immediate end to racist violence.
“The violence of white supremacy, whether hiding behind ‘stand your ground’ laws or the uniform of ‘protect and serve’ police, is not diminishing, and neither are the people’s grief and anger,” said Eric Brooks, co-convener of the African American Equality Commission of the Communist Party.
Yarl was hospitalized with two gunshot wounds, including one to the head, according to his family and lawyers. He was sent by his parents to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house on Thursday evening but mistakenly went to the wrong house a block away.
Faith Spoonmore, Yarl’s aunt, wrote that her nephew “pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell. The man in the home opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye, and shot him in the head.”
Spoonmore continued: “My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again. Ralph was able to get up and run to the neighbor’s house, looking for help. Unfortunately, he had to run to three different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up.”
Missouri, where Yarl was shot, has enacted “stand your ground” laws that are frequently used to shield white murderers of Black people from the legal system, and from any semblance of justice. As laid out by Kynala Phillips in The Kansas City Star:
“These kinds of ‘stand your ground’ laws are controversial and have gathered national attention for helping to acquit people like George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 after claiming he felt he was in fear for his life. More recently, Wisconsin’s ‘stand your ground’ law was the basis for acquitting Kyle Rittenhouse after he opened fire on protesters in 2020 and killed two men and injured another.”
Missouri’s ‘stand your ground’ law has received overwhelming support from Republican lawmakers, while state Democrats were largely against the law.
The 2016 version of the law eliminated the requirement that someone first try to retreat before using force when they’re lawfully allowed to be at a location. A previous law had already eliminated the duty to retreat inside their home or vehicle.
A 2022 study showed Missouri’s gun homicide rate increased significantly after the ‘stand your ground’ law was enacted. States with such laws, including Missouri, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, saw gun homicides increase from 16.2% to 33.5% after enactment.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lewis who is Black, said “stand your ground” should not apply in the Yarl case. “If ‘stand your ground’ really lets somebody just shoot somebody that rings a doorbell,” he said, “that [puts] the life of every postal worker, every campaigner, every Amazon delivery person at risk in this country.”
Stacey Graves, the white Chief of the Kansas City Police Department, said “There was a ‘potential’ self-defense or ‘stand your ground’ element that investigators were examining.”
It remains to be seen whether Lester will mount a “stand your ground” based defense.
In the Jayland Walker case, an Ohio grand jury decided to set eight Akron police officers free after they stopped Walker, a Black youth, for a darkened license plate traffic violation, and then shot him to death, firing 94 shots at Walker in 6.7 seconds as he fled, unarmed, away from them.
Responding, Brooks said, “The Communist Party USA calls for an end to racist police violence against Black, Brown, and Asian people, against women, and against migrants. We call for democratic community control of the police, repeal of all ‘stand your ground’ laws, and de-escalation of use of police force in oppressed communities.”
In addition to demanding justice for Yarl, Brooks said the CPUSA was also in agreement with calls for a federal civil rights investigation into the murder of Walker.
Police reforms in recent years have not stopped racist killings by the police. Democratic community control of the police, and the re-imagination of what public safety means, are necessary to end racist police violence, Brooks emphasized.
Democratic community control of the police was won in Chicago under the leadership of the National Alliance Against Racist and Police Repression (NAARPR), with organized labor and elected officials adding their strength to the cause. The NAARPR says:
“This historic moment demands that Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano/Mexicano, and other oppressed communities in the United States give ourselves historic new rights and power. Our communities have the right to be free of police tyranny. Defending that right requires the power to control the police, instead of being controlled by them. Before we can talk about police reforms, communities first have to take power to control and reform the police themselves. That requires that we directly elect civilian police accountability councils (CPACs) who will defend our rights, independent of the political masters who today use the police to serve their ends.”
The CPUSA’s African American Equality Commission further stated:
“Black, Brown and Asian people, women and migrants, must be safe in our communities, regardless of skin color or citizenship status. The United States cannot continue as a white supremacist stronghold for capitalist exploitation. The killing of Black and Brown youth is a component of the heartless denial of humanity at the core of capitalism. We can organize and take control of the police in our communities and end the killings now.”
To participate in the struggle for community control of the police, please reach out to the National Alliance Against Racist and Police Repression and the Communist Party USA.
People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.