KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hundreds of protesters gathered for a rally outside Kansas City’s Federal Courthouse just hours after the suspected shooter of a teenager was released on bond.
The protest in the wake of the shooting of Ralph Yarl, 16, was peaceful, but they hoped to send a strong message.
“Black Lives Matter, “Black Lives Matter,” protesters chanted as they marched to KCPD Headquarters voicing their concerns about the handling of the shooting investigation of Yarl. Andrew Lester, 84, was charged Monday with two felony counts, four days after the shooting.
“As a mother of four I was deeply disturbed how police could allow that question him for just two hours and release him knowing that any of us had done that we’d ever be released from jail,” Jalisa Davis said.
The protest was planned before Lester turned himself in, but took place a short time after he bonded out paying 10% of a $200,000 bond.
“You tried to kill that little boy but thank the lord that he’s at home,” one speaker told the crowd.
The Clay County prosecutor said the case where Lester shot the teen who showed up at the wrong door has a racial component.
A great of civil rights leaders called for federal hate crime charges in the case.
The NAACP, SCLC, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and others spoke at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City Tuesday.
“We stopped by to tell you today, and history bears it out, that a charge does not mean justice,” said SCLC president Vernon Howard.
Howard said he won’t stop organizing until the suspect, Andrew Lester, 84, is in prison.
“We believe that this was a race and hate motivated crime, and we want the federal government, the FBI, to conduct a hate crime investigation,” said Urban League CEO Gwen Grant.
City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson told supporters she has reached out to the Department of Justice to call for an investigation.
“If we’re going to put race in into it then we should talk about the whole thing why are black kids in my community being targeted,” Gloria Lukadi said.
“I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. I can’t imagine that happening just going to pick up my little brother. The fact all he did was ring a doorbell and he almost died. Kids like me can’t ring a doorbell without the fear of being shot in this country,” Julian Garcia, 18, said.
With Lester now free on bond and Kansas City in the national spotlight both for the shooting and major upcoming events like the NFL Draft, people gathered said they plan to keep making sure their voices are heard.
“The only thing we can really do is this be in a group and get together and be loud about it,” Mason Strange said.
In December, the FBI released data saying hate crimes in Missouri jumped by almost 70% in 2021.
“It was 2017 when the NAACP invoked a travel advisory so that people would know that if you’re a person of color and you’re within the confines of this state, your level of justice is less than everybody else’s,” said Missouri NAACP president Nimrod Chapel.
The Clay County prosecuting attorney said Monday adding state hate crime charges would create a double jeopardy scenario, and the felony assault charge already carries a possible life sentence.
“This could have been my son,” said Missouri Representative Jamie Johnson (D- Kansas City). “There are things that we need to do as a state body to rectify the prevalence of guns in our communities.”
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The group also called for police reform and local control of police departments. They say all of this is how we make the community whole.
“Next week, we have the NFL draft,” Grant said. “In 2026, we have the World Cup. We need to clean up our mess.”