Kansas City mayor on the shooting of a Black teenager
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
The white man accused of shooting a Black teenager who simply rang the wrong doorbell in Missouri is back in police custody. Eighty-four-year-old Andrew Lester turned himself into Kansas City police this afternoon. It comes a day after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest and charged him with two felony counts for allegedly opening fire unprovoked on 16-year-old Ralph Yarl last Thursday. Yarl survived with gunshot wounds to his head and arm. The lack of immediate charges in the case sparked weekend protests in Kansas City. The city's mayor, Quinton Lucas, has been in touch with Yarl's family and joins me now. Mayor Quinton Lucas, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
QUINTON LUCAS: It is good to be back with you.
DETROW: First of all, how is Ralph doing?
LUCAS: I have been astonished, frankly. It is a miracle that he is out of the hospital. He is recovering despite the fact that Ralph was shot in the head and in the arm. It is something that is just tremendous thanks to medical professionals here in Kansas City and in his own family, having a number of nurses and others. So we know it's a long road ahead, but it has been a good one.
DETROW: OK. Well, this all started, again, because Ralph Yarl was trying to pick up his younger brothers, and he had the wrong address. And police did take Andrew Lester, the accused shooter, into custody on Thursday, but they let him go after a few hours, citing a need to interview Yarl first. Was that the wrong move in your mind?
LUCAS: I think we're going to have a pretty thorough review about the steps that that were taken, ways we could always do better in the future. What I will say is that thanks in large part to a lot of the public outcry that we heard and the hard work done by detectives, we were very able - quickly able to get charges in. But I think there will be real questions about all of that along the way.
DETROW: You mentioned that outcry. Do you think these charges and this arrest would have come without protests and public attention?
LUCAS: I think the protest and public attention were vital in amplifying the issue. I think, heck, it's how I largely learned about it, as well. So I will not marginalize the work of the people in making sure that this was centered, including Ralph's own family. I think that in our after action is something else we need to make sure we look at. I think there was going to be a real thorough investigation done, but I think the speed - I think it has been aided by the fact that there are a lot of people who've been asking questions about why this man was not in custody, why this man was not charged.
DETROW: Do you have a timeline for that kind of review? And how direct of a role would you play in it?
LUCAS: You know, there are a lot of things that I can do. There are some things I can't, but I certainly have a bully pulpit as a mayor to make sure that we have those conversations. I've been in regular contact with our chief of police. And so I would expect it to be a conversation of days and weeks rather than coming back over it a year from now or two years from now. Step one was trying to get to justice. We saw charges yesterday. I'm very happy about that. But I know we have a lot more work to do to get the community more trust.
DETROW: And I want to ask you something about those charges. We know from the police documents that Lester did mention that Yarl was Black and said that he was, quote, "scared to death" when he saw Yarl But the county prosecutor declined to bring any hate crime charges in this case. Do you agree with that decision?
LUCAS: I think there are very serious charges that have been filed here. I am a lawyer, but I don't know the full panoply of potential charges at issue. What I do know is that the 84-year-old defendant, Andrew Lester, faces up to life imprisonment with the charges that have been filed. I expect him to be convicted, but I know there will be more public outcry about hate crimes charges coming up even later today in Kansas City. And we look to, I believe, federal prosecutors who may be making those determinations.
DETROW: You know, you wrote on Twitter that it's on us to stop something like this from happening. How do you practically get there?
LUCAS: You call out racism where it exists. In a lot of states like mine, the state of Florida and so many others, you're seeing this attack on diversity, equity and inclusion, which, as I see, is just basically saying, let's have a status quo of racism. Let's make it so folks like this defendant, Andrew Lester, are able to, I think, even just grow in their views of anti-Black racism. I've said in a few different forums that if - and if the victim, Ralph, were not Black, I don't think he would've been shot. And I say that from experience lived as a Black man in America, as a person in America, in hearing about these stories on your network and others again and again and again. It is in the hearts and minds of people. We need to make changes. And then one other change - we cannot just fetishize guns, like, to the end of time. Everybody is told to just - if you're afraid, bring out your gun, brandish it.
LUCAS: It's a huge issue.
DETROW: That's Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Thanks so much for joining us.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.