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  • Writer's pictureDr. Julianne Malveaux


All Ralph Yarl was trying to do was pick up his siblings in Kansas City. He went to a home on 115 Street instead of 115 Terrace, an understandable mistake that could have been easily rectified had the homeowner, who opened the door with a gun instead, said "wrong address" and provided directions to the right one. Instead, the rabid white man shot the 16-year-old in the head and the arm. Blessedly, Yah is alive, hospitalized, and in stable condition. Andrew Lester, the shooter, was released for a couple of days but is now arrested and charged, thanks to community outrage. Questions remain. Does "stand your ground" means shoot 'em up? Would the homeowner have shot a white youth? Would a black homeowner shooting have been released so quickly? Does stand your ground mean shoot 'em up? What's race got to do with it?

As concerned as I am with Ralph Yarl, an exceptional student, I am equally worried about how this shooting may affect other Black youth's mental health and stability. Every signal our society sends to young Black people is a signal that they are not valued. Running unarmed through the wrong neighborhood can get you shot and killed. Driving unarmed and safely in the face of white police irrationality can get you killed. Looking "menacing" can get you killed. Sitting in a classroom can get you killed. Going to a birthday party can get you killed. Too often, Black youth are killed by rabid and irrational whites. Equally often, folks with more guns than sense kill them in classrooms and streets. And then, sometimes, they are killed by each other. How are they processing the threats to their safety and survival?

In her book Lynching and Spectacle, Amy Louise Wood wrote that "Even one lynching reverberated, traveling with sinister force, down city streets, and through rural farms, across roads and rivers. .. One mob's yell could sound like "a hundred mobs yelling," and the specter of the violence continued to smolder long after it was over." These all-too-regular shootings of Black youth have a similar effect. What does any young Black man think of the shooting of Ralph Yah? Does it make him feel more endangered? More cautious? Angrier? Does it affect his mental health?

It took authorities way too long to charge Ralph Yarl's shooter. White folks too often get a pass (or at least a break) when they shoot Black people. This is discouraging. It reminds us that there are few consequences to shooting Black people and that Black folks must always be vigilant. To be sure, since the murder of George Floyd, a few murderers, like putrid Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, have experienced consequences. At the same time, too many get away with these public shootings, killings, and lynchings. Ralph Yarl's survival is a blessing. His community's advocacy for him is a tremendous support. Attorney Ben Crump and his team should be applauded for being on the case.

The Black community must turn this pain into power and purpose. The National Rifle Association, now promoting "junior" versions of assault weapons, must be checked. Every time a mass shooting occurs, the shooters must be sued, and, more importantly (but not the same thing), if they send legal reinforcements to defend the heinous attacker of Ralph Yarl, they should be countered with fierce opposition. The right to bear arms does not mean the right to shoot innocent people on sight. Simple civility suggests that the erroneous ringing of a doorbell should not turn into a savage act by a homeowner. But the media machine that portrays Black people as frightening and threatening is at least partly responsible for the deep-seated fear and hate that some whites have toward us.

Too many of us have been anesthetized by our trauma. It hurts, but it doesn't hurt. It's abnormal, but its attacks on Black people have been so frequent that they have become routine. We pray for Ralph Yarl, cry for him, and contribute to the Go Fund Me appeal that his aunt put out. Yet these passive acts are not enough. It is time for the kind of action that disarms fools and protects young Black people.


Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA.

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