When I was doing research for this column, I thought it would be about the Black teen in Kansas City who was shot by the 84-year-old white man for the great crime, as Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas put it, of “knock(ing) on the door while Black.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, who was sent by his parents to pick up his younger brothers, but who went to the wrong address. He was supposed to go to a house on Northeast 115 Terrace, but instead went to nearby Northeast 115 Street. That mistake nearly cost him his life.
Yarl knocked on the door — or maybe he rang the doorbell; it’s not clear — and, according to the charges filed, before he could say a word, the homeowner, Andrew Lester, shot him twice, once in the head. Yarl was able to run to a neighboring house to get help.
We can assume that the shooter, who said he was “scared to death,” thought he was justified in shooting Yarl because of Missouri’s “stand-your-ground” law, which like most such laws — including Colorado’s — allows you to shoot someone you “reasonably believe” presents imminent danger to you or to others.
It’s a controversial law in the best of times, used as part of the defense of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. In Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse made a similar self-defense argument after killing two protesters. In a bid to pardon a man recently convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester — who was legally armed — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or progressive district attorney.”
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But according to the charges brought against Lester, Yarl was unarmed and had never even crossed the threshold. He was apparently just standing there, innocently enough, when the homeowner presumably believed — if not at all reasonably — that a Black teenager on his porch meant danger. And so Lester allegedly shot him. And when Yarl fell, Lester apparently shot him again.
The story is pretty cut and dried. Fortunately, after surgery, Yarl seems to be on his way to recovery, if a long and painful one. Lester has been charged with two crimes that, if he’s convicted, would likely send him to prison for the rest of his life. And the charging prosecutor would say that the case had a “racial component” to it.
Yes, it obviously did.
But then the overarching narrative took a turn. Because days later, in rural upstate New York, four young people were in a car that turned into the wrong driveway and, soon realizing their mistake, were backing up when homeowner Kevin Monahan, 65, fired at least two shots at them.
One of those shots struck 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis, and because of the remote location, the group apparently had to drive six miles before they could reach 911 on a cell phone.
Soon after the emergency team arrived, Kaylin Gillis was pronounced dead. And the next day, Monahan would be charged with murder.
It’s so much like the case in Kansas City — an unthreatened homeowner believing he has the right to shoot anyone on his property — except in the New York case, everyone involved was white.
So, yes, there was of course a racial component in Yarl’s shooting. But there was also very much a gun-violence component and, with it, the apparent belief that shooting an innocent Black teenager on your porch — or a group of young people in your driveway — is somehow justifiable.
According to polls, most people who buy guns do so for self protection, including the ever-growing Lauren Boebert-style subset that thinks you need to be armed to protect yourself from the government. In any case, there have been studies — published to little effect — showing that having a gun in your home puts people who live there at greater risk than not having a gun.
None of it matters. We have many more guns than people in America and many more deaths from guns — homicidal deaths, suicidal deaths, accidental deaths — than anywhere else in the world.
We are too often reminded of the issue of race in police shootings. We are too often reminded of the danger of assault-style weapons in mass shootings.
We are too often reminded of gun violence everywhere. And yet, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, recently took a House subcommittee to New York to, uh, investigate crime there. You knew it was a stunt not only because Jordan was clearly there only to slam Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan DA who had the nerve to file charges against Donald Trump. But also because I’m pretty sure Jordan never once mentioned the role of guns in crime.
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Following the Kansas City shooting, Imani Perry wrote a piece in The Atlantic of the continuing heartbreak that comes with the killing and injuring of Black innocents. Perry writes that America “will break our hearts again.”
Perry goes on to say: “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.”
No one could save Kaylin Gillis after she was senselessly shot and killed. Just a week ago, I wrote about a “glimmer of hope” from Tennessee where a red-state governor is asking for the legislature to pass a red-flag law after the Nashville school shootings. But sadly, in no time at all, the glimmer has become so much harder to see.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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