The Castle Crumbles
One Kansas City indictment is unlike the others.
Andrew Lester was “scared to death.”
That’s what he told police of the moment he shot a teenager who turned up at his front door in the middle of the night. Why would we not believe him?
Lester is an 84-year-old veteran and former mechanic who lives alone in Kansas City, one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. By his account, he had just gone to bed around 10 p.m. when he heard the doorbell ring. The house had a home security system, but it had long been inoperative.
As he tells it, the elderly man reached the front of the house, opened the interior door, and saw a figure in the dark trying to open the exterior glass door. He fired twice, striking Ralph Yarl once in the head and once in the arm.
Yarl is 16, and he had come to the wrong house meaning to pick up his two younger brothers from a visit with a friend. Mercifully, he survived, and is currently in recovery.
After a national outcry and a soft intervention by the president of the United States, Lester was charged with one count of assault in the first degree and one count of armed criminal action.
Missouri has strong “stand your ground” laws, meaning prosecutors must prove that Lester did not reasonably believe that he was acting in self-defense in order to secure a conviction—which is to say they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not “scared to death.”
How that could be done is hard to say. Again: Andrew Lester is 84 years old and lives alone in Kansas City. He was woken in the night to find an unknown person reaching for his front door. He says he feared for his life. Most people would.
No doubt Lester remembers the riots that rocked Kansas City as recently as 2020, mere miles from his home. Or the national firestorm that started in Ferguson, a few hours to the east, almost a decade ago and still has not subsided.
No doubt he has noticed the sharp uptick in violent crime across the country these last few years, including a hockey-stick spike in attacks against the elderly. No doubt he is aware that his own strength—his ability to defend himself with less than lethal force—is waning.
It seems pretty clear that Ralph Yarl did nothing wrong. By all accounts, he is a good kid who got a little lost while doing a favor for his brothers and his mother. Bad luck and the complete collapse of social trust have put him in the hospital.
Jailing Andrew Lester for that will merely compound tragedy with injustice.
Police, prosecutors, and attorneys for Yarl’s family have been emphatic that “there was a racial component” to the incident.
It is very likely that they are correct: that none of this would have happened as it did were the racial dynamics involved not what they are. To demonstrate the point, we need only look at a handful of other cases. We do not even need to look beyond last week.
On Saturday, two days after Yarl’s shooting, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was shot and killed inside a car after pulling into the wrong driveway in Hebron, New York. The homeowner, Kevin Monahan, has been described as a “hot-tempered” man who was habitually angry about wrong turns into his driveway. He has reportedly expressed no remorse for his actions. (Lester, on the other hand, repeatedly asked about Yarl’s condition, voicing concern for the boy, in his conversations with police.)
In Elgin, Texas, early Tuesday morning, two cheerleaders were shot after one opened the wrong car door in a supermarket parking lot. The suspect, Pedro Rodriquez, fled the scene and was apprehended later by police.
Later that day in Gaston County, North Carolina, Robert Louis Singletary allegedly shot a six-year-old girl, her parents, and another neighbor after a basketball rolled into his yard by accident. Singletary, who is black, had already been charged this year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend with a hammer. He fled to Florida, then turned himself in two days later.
In each of these cases, unlike in Lester’s, there is no way a reasonable person could conclude that the shooter acted in reasonable belief of self-defense. In one case—unlike in Yarl’s—an innocent person was killed. Parents lost a daughter without their heartbreak fitting nicely into an opportune narrative.
Where are their condolences from the White House?
Andrew Lester is collateral damage for a political agenda, and everyone else is simply tossed aside.
This kind of mistreatment is bad enough when it comes from strangers (albeit strangers in prominent positions of public trust). How much worse is it when it comes from one’s own family?
Lester’s grandson, Klint Ludwig, has been making rounds griping to the media about his grandfather’s radicalization by cable TV.
“I believe that there have been some positions that he’s held that have been bigoted or sort of disparaging,” Ludwig said of his grandfather’s supposed wrongs. “But it’s stock Fox News, conservative American stuff. It’s ‘anybody who gets an abortion is a murderer.’ And ‘fatherless Black families are the reason why crime exists in this country.’ It’s stuff everybody’s heard at the Thanksgiving table every year.”
He claims his grandfather has “become staunchly right-wing, further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line.”
His great sin, it seems, is a bit of common sense—and a dose of skepticism about prevailing narratives that his grandson cannot afford. Given all this, Ludwig says he was “appalled” and “disgusted,” but not surprised to learn that his grandfather had shot a black teenager.
According to the Kansas City Star, Ludwig recalls that “Lester would come to his school for grandparent lunches, and Ludwig would spend time in the summer at his grandparents’ house, riding bikes.” All that, and now this.
It is rather grotesque impiety, not even waiting for the grave before spitting on one’s ancestors. It is also a heavy hint that Lester—and so many others—may not have thought without reason that he ought to watch his back.
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