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Activists in Kansas City protest the shooting of Ralph Yarl, call for strict sentence

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Eighty-four-year-old Andrew Lester turned himself into authorities Tuesday for shooting a Black teenager. Lester, who is white, told authorities he shot Ralph Yarl out of fear after Yarl rang Lester's doorbell by mistake. Lester is now out on bond. Activists in Kansas City held a rally to protest the initial delay in arresting the shooter and to call for a strict sentence. Reporter Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga was there.

BEK SHACKELFORD-NWANGANGA, BYLINE: Civil rights leaders and activists packed a park in downtown Kansas City to demand justice for 16-year-old Ralph Yarl.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Now.

SHACKELFORD-NWANGANGA: They called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting as a hate crime. Activist Dee Porter (ph) says North Kansas City, where she lives and where the shooting happened, and the rest of the country has an issue with racism.

DEE PORTER: We're still where we were. Sometimes I question - are we in 1956 or are we in 2023? - because this is constantly happening.

SHACKELFORD-NWANGANGA: Vanessa Harris (ph), Yarl's cousin, was at the rally. She says she and her cousin are really close and she hurts for him. Lester was charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action, both felonies. But Harris and many others at the rally say that's not enough.

VANESSA HARRIS: The guy should be - Andrew Lester, he should be charged with attempted murder and not just assault because he shot him. And he could have died right there in cold blood.

SHACKELFORD-NWANGANGA: Lester's bail was set at $200,000, but he posted $20,000 in cash and was released. Yarl is a talented musician and high school student. He's from a tight-knit Liberian community in Kansas City. Many of his community members, like Denise Dia (ph), came to show their support Tuesday. Dia says she lives in a primarily white neighborhood with her small daughters. And she worries they'll experience racism, too.

DENISE DIA: You're, like, on edge. There's no way to relax and make - you know, even when your kids are at school, there's no place safe. This is not the America that we fled our country to come to.

SHACKELFORD-NWANGANGA: Dia says this isn't the first time she's protested for racial justice in America. She took part in the 2020 protests following George Floyd's death. But this time, the protest hit closer to home. And Dia says they won't give up until justice is served. Dia says although Yarl has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, he will never again have a normal childhood.

For NPR News, I'm Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIBRARY TAPES AND JULIA KENT'S "BRANCHES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga