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In Kansas City, calls grow to charge the white homeowner who shot a Black teen

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We turn to Kansas City, where Andrew Lester, an 85-year-old white man, faces charges after having shot a 16-year-old Black teenager who rang his doorbell by mistake. The teen, Ralph Yarl, was going to pick up his twin brothers from a friend's house last Thursday but went to the wrong location just a block away. After Yarl rang the doorbell, Lester shot him through the glass door. The teen was treated for gunshot wounds at the hospital and is now recovering at home.

Savannah Hawley-Bates of member station KCUR has been following this story and joins us now. Hi, Savannah.

SAVANNAH HAWLEY-BATES, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us what the latest is in this case.

HAWLEY-BATES: Yeah. So late this afternoon, the local prosecutor announced the charges. Lester was charged with a felony assault in the first degree, which carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years or life imprisonment. He was also charged with armed criminal action, which could be a 3- to 15-year sentence. Prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said he was not bringing hate crime charges, which some have called for, because they're a lower-class felony in Missouri than felony assault, which is a Class A, and he doesn't want to risk double jeopardy in the case. He did say, though, that race played a part in the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZACHARY THOMPSON: My message to the community is that in Clay County, we enforce the laws, and we follow the laws. And that does not matter where you come from or what you look like or how much money you have. Everyone is held to the same standard.

CHANG: And can you just walk us through exactly what we know at this point about the shooting?

HAWLEY-BATES: According to his family, Yarl was going to pick up his twin younger brothers but did not have his phone with him. He was supposed to go to Northeast 115th Terrace and instead went to Northeast 115th Street, just a block away, like you said. He rang the doorbell, and the homeowner shot him through the glass door. The prosecutor says the teen did not enter the house and did not say anything to the man who shot him.

CHANG: Well, I know that over the weekend, hundreds of people turned out to protest this shooting. Can you tell us what you heard from some of them?

HAWLEY-BATES: Yeah. Protesters gathered in front of the shooter's house demanding justice. They were demanding the arrest of the shooter, which they said was delayed. And they also celebrated the fact that Yarl is alive. Many of the protesters said that if a Black man had shot a white boy, the shooter would have been immediately arrested and charged. Justice Gatson is a community organizer who spoke at the protest, and she said the incident is proof that police don't protect Black people in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTICE GATSON: It's a two-tiered system, and so let's not play about it. We cannot work with a system that is intent on killing us.

CHANG: Well, what about Yarl - well, what about Ralph Yarl's family? What are they saying about all of this?

HAWLEY-BATES: The family, first and foremost, says that they're happy that he's recovering at home from the hospital, and they've retained two prominent civil rights attorneys, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt. They've each represented high-profile cases of Black people who were shot and killed - Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Yarl's aunt has even called for possible hate crime charges in the shooting. But again, the prosecutor said that he did not want to risk double jeopardy with that. She's also started a GoFundMe to help cover Yarl's medical and therapy expenses, as well as future things like college and a trip back to their homeland in West Africa. So far, that's raised more than $1.5 million.

CHANG: Wow. That is Savannah Hawley-Bates of member station KCUR in Kansas City. Thank you, Savannah.

HAWLEY-BATES: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Savannah Hawley