Who is afraid of Ralph Yarl?

There will be many more Ralph Yarls because that is exactly how (White) America wants it

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published April 25, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Two humans in a gun fight (Getty Images/Hélène Desplechin)
Two humans in a gun fight (Getty Images/Hélène Desplechin)

Negrophobia shortens the lives of Black people.

Sometimes this happens suddenly through interpersonal violence by the police, vigilantes, and others who feel empowered to take Black people's lives with relative impunity. Most of the time, negrophobia kills en masse through "weathering" (or its related process "racial battle fatigue"), which is the emotional, physical, spiritual, and cognitive cost to Black people's health and welfare that takes place over years and decades of living in a racist society. 

I know for a fact that I am being slowly killed by negrophobia.

America is sick with negrophobia; it's one of the defining features of American society.

On the night of April 13, a 16-year-old Black boy named Ralph Yarl was nearly killed by an 84-year-old white man in Kansas City, MO. The shooter, Andrew Lester, appears to be possessed by negrophobia. Young Ralph made the innocent mistake of ringing Lester's doorbell. He was looking for his two younger brothers. They were actually at another house several blocks away. Andrew Lester answered the door, came outside, and then shot Ralph Yarl several times with a pistol – including in his head. Yet Lester was not immediately arrested by the police. When he finally was, he was quickly allowed to return home.

Andrew Lester did not see another human being in need of help and deserving of respect. Instead, he, like so many other white people in American society, both past and present, saw a giant negro. To that point, Andrew Lester told police "He was scared to death" of Ralph Yarl because he was supposedly so big. The teen is five-foot-eight and weighs 140 pounds.

 Alternatively, perhaps Lester thought that Ralph Yarl had superpowers which is why he shot him while he was on the ground and bleeding out. If Lester actually believed that Ralph Yarl was superhuman, such a delusion would not be uncommon. Social psychologists have shown that a large percentage (if not majority) of white people – including doctors and other medical professionals – believe that Black people have a higher pain threshold than white people, and are faster, stronger, and may have other supernatural abilities.

There are multiple detailed third-person accounts and reports about what happened that horrible evening in Kansas City.

The Kansas City Star reports:

Andrew Lester believes that what he did to Ralph Yarl was reasonable:    

Lester told police during an interview that he had just lain down when he heard the doorbell ring. He picked up a revolver and opened the interior door. He saw a Black male pulling on the exterior door and said he thought someone was trying to break in. He fired two shots. No words were exchanged, according to Lester, who told police he was protecting himself and expressed concern for the victim. Ralph Yarl was shot and injured Thursday after going to the wrong house to pick up his siblings. Charges were filed against the shooter Monday. Police conducted an informal interview with Yarl at Children's Mercy Hospital. The teen said he rang the doorbell, waited outside and did not pull on the door. A man opened the door holding a firearm. Yarl said he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground where he was shot a second time, this time in the right arm. Yarl told police the man said, "Don't come around here."

Klint Ludwig, who is Lester's grandson, adds an additional layer of explanation for what happened that day: he told CNN that "The warning signs were there. I wasn't shocked when I heard the news….I believe he held -- holds -- racist tendencies and beliefs."

Ludwig explained that his grandfather was stoked by right-wing conspiracy theories and right-wing media that conditioned him with "fear and paranoia" and were "blaring in his living room." He told CNN he was disturbed by racial comments made by his grandfather in the past, including about Black people. Ludwig concluded that "I think that stuff really kind of reinforces this negative view of minority groups."

Ludwig continued, telling CNN that, "people get away with killing unarmed, innocent Black people….People need to speak out…not make any excuses for this kind of behavior and this violence."

Lester's ex-wife told Inside Edition that she does not believe he was fearful of the teenager he shot.

"That's exactly why I wanted to talk to you," Mary Clayton, who was married to Lester for 14 years, told Inside Edition. "I don't want people feeling sorry for him."

According to Clayton, Lester used violence against her during their marriage, and his father was convicted of murder. She said their three children remain estranged from Lester. 

"I think he should go to jail, I think he did it on purpose," she said. "He knew what he was doing and he's a danger. He could do it again."

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As author and radio host Thom Hartmann sharply observed in a new essay, Fox News is like heroin to its public.

I would suggest another street drug: Fox "News" is like crack or meth mixed with some type of hallucinogen. Ultimately, the choice of narcotic does not matter because the result is the same: The "Fox "News" family" are hate addicts.

What does the victim Ralph Yarl have to say about his own experience? He has been grievously injured and traumatized. At some point perhaps he will speak to the public about what happened if he so chooses. Here is what Ralph Yarl's uncle said on the GoFundMe page which was created to help with his nephew's recovery and ongoing care:

Ralph is currently at home with the family. He can ambulate and communicate. A true miracle considering what he survived.

Each day is different. He has a long road ahead. However, we are very thankful that he is still here with us. I've been taking the time to read the emails and comments to Ralph. It warms our hearts to see him smile at all the kind words.

Thank you so much for loving Ralph


On Thursday, April 13, 2023, my nephew Ralph P Yarl was on his way to pick up his twin younger brothers from their friend's house a few blocks away from his house. He didn't have his phone. He mistakenly went to the wrong house, one block away from the house where his siblings were. He 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. My nephew fell to the ground, and the man shot him again. Ralph was then able to get up and run to the neighbor's house, looking for help.

Unfortunately, he had to run to 3 different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up.

Ralph Paul Yarl is a fantastic kid, and I am not just saying this because he is my nephew. He truly is. At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympia Team. Jazz and competition band. He is a section leader in the marching band; a scholar and one of the top bass clarinet players in Missouri. He recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition with an honorable mention. He plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra. He is a 2022 Missouri scholar academy alumni. Ralph can often be found with a musical instrument. He loves them all.

Last summer, Ralph attended Missouri Scholar's Academy, where he got a full college life experience. His goal is to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical Engineering. When asked how he plans to get into this university, he said, "Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it."

Ralph's teacher and friends describe him as "a kind soul," "quiet," "friendly," "well-mannered," "always willing to help," "super smart," and a "musical genius."

Ralph was looking forward to graduating high school and finally getting the opportunity to visit West Africa before starting college.

Life looks a lot different right now. Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally. The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable. He is our miracle. We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most Black boys are not alive to get another chance.

Ralph deserves to have the future that he has dreams about. He deserves to be the light that shows the world that LOVE wins and that humanity is still Good.

It is difficult to explain or otherwise convey the fear and anxiety you experience as a Black or brown person when you read such a statement. You know that such a horrible act of violence could befall you, your child, a friend, a neighbor or someone else you care about because they are Black or brown.

In an essay at the Atlantic, Imani Perry channels that collective dread:

We know that all the awareness and outrage in the world hasn't changed things. Our need for action is a sorrowful distraction from the reality that even after the trial of the man charged in Ralph's shooting has run its course (if there is one), this country will break our hearts again.

Nauseated, I think this: At least in Jim Crow–era sundown towns, there were ostensibly safe hours to be Black on the street. Now? Each day and every hour, we are balls bouncing along a roulette wheel. Remember back when we used to think we could offer protective advice to keep our children safe? Show your hands, no sudden movements, no running. We were so naive then, and hopeful.

I ask, how are the people in this nation so adjusted to Black folks suffering? And then I think: That, too, is naive. The Nashville school shooting just happened. Unquestionably, racism makes our experience as Black Americans more frightening, more dangerous. But they won't even save their own children. All of our kids are coming of age in a society in crisis. And certain antisocial forces—the ones who make and sell and protect guns, the ones who reject knowledge, the ones who believe that their homes are castles but make terrible rules for other peoples' bodies, the ones who believe that some of us are ordained to inferiority and vote that way—are trying their darndest to prevent all of our children from growing up and maturing into the kind of people who can make this democracy functional. And people keep putting them in power.

Thank God Ralph Yarl lives. I whispered it to myself as my own 16-year-old son drove us home from his school today.

I have no doubt that there are many millions of white people who reject anti-Black violence and the societal harms caused by negrophobia and white supremacy. We saw tens of millions of them march and protest in response to the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. The Black Freedom Struggle would not have had its many victories without white allies and white collaborators and other white people of conscience. Unfortunately, however, there are too few such people.  

Negrophobia and the harm it causes to Black and brown people will endure in American society so long as white people do not have real, meaningful, and equal human relationships across the color line.

Likewise, I have no doubt that there are many white journalists and other public voices who view negrophobia and other manifestations of white supremacy and racism as something wrong and unacceptable.

Here is the complication: social scientists have repeatedly documented how most white people in America do not have one Black (or other non-white) friend. By comparison, Black and brown people are much more likely to tell researchers that they have at least one white friend. This number increases among Black and brown strivers in the professional and managerial classes because they work in majority-white spaces.

A real friend does not include the Black person you only talk with at the water fountain at work or say hello to at the copy machine. In the age of virtual offices and workspaces, the Black person you only message or otherwise dialogue with on Slack is also not your friend.

A real friend is someone you talk about money with and your fears and anxieties about taking care of children or an aging parent or sick partner.

A real friend is someone you can tell that one of your greatest fears is being homeless if you lose your job and they respond by telling you, without pause, that won't happen because you will always have a home with them.

A real friend is someone who goes with you to the funeral and sits with you during your moments of despair.

A real friend helps you take your sick pet to the veterinarian and offers to do whatever is necessary for your animal family member to get well. If your sick pet must cross the rainbow bridge a real friend will be with you and let you know that your animal friend is in a better place, and you did nothing wrong by freeing them of their suffering.

A real friend is someone who you call when you are on the way to the hospital or are lying in the hospital bed or waiting in the emergency room and you know their response will be What do you need? What can I do? or I will be there soon.

A real friend is someone who gives you money when they know you need it – and you don't have to ask or embarrass yourself by asking.

A real friend is someone whose absence you feel acutely.

A real friend is someone you feel comfortable calling at any time of the day or night, and you know they will pick up the phone because it is you.

A real friend is also someone you feel comfortable with just being around and doing nothing. You can have real friends who you have never met in person and only know online. 

Real friendships are increasingly rare in American society (and Western societies more generally). Those types of relationships are even less common across the color line. This means that the Black people's suffering is something mostly abstract even if such images are routinely shown by the mass media in what, too often, is a type of new age lynching photography.  

Absent real connections with Black people, the average white person in America can only understand the dread and existential terror of negrophobia through an act of radical empathy. Negrophobia and the harm it causes to Black and brown people will endure in American society so long as white people do not have real, meaningful, and equal human relationships across the color line. Even more importantly, negrophobia and white supremacy and the types of structures and institutions that enforce and spread it will endure as long as white people are collectively invested in protecting white privilege and other forms of unearned white advantages.

Ultimately, there will be many more Ralph Yarls because that is exactly how (White) America wants it.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Fox News Gun Violence Guns Nra Race Racism Ralph Yarl Right-wing Media Stand-your-ground White Supremacy