On Race and Crime, a Counterfactual Narrative
Millions of blacks are walking around believing that whites hate and fear them so much that blacks are at daily risk of their lives from that hatred. This belief is the rankest fiction. Yet it is embraced and amplified by almost every mainstream American institution.
The shooting of a teen-ager in Kansas City, Missouri, has added “knocking on the door while black” and “existing while black” to the list of activities that allegedly put blacks at daily risk of their lives in white supremacist America. Meantime, the actual configuration of interracial violence is assiduously ignored.
On April 13, 2023, at around 10 P.M., 16-year-old Ralph Yarl went to the wrong address in a Kansas City residential neighborhood to pick up his younger brothers. Yarl rang the doorbell, summoning the 84-year-old homeowner, Andrew Lester, from his bed. Lester, who lived alone and who appears from photographs to be in the early stages of dementia, grabbed his handgun and went to the door. He became “scared to death,” he told the police, when he saw the larger Yarl pulling at the exterior storm door handle. (Yarl denies trying to open the door.) Lester shot Yarl, once in the head and once in the arm, through the storm door. Thankfully, Yarl will likely survive the horrifying attack.
Every news outlet that covered the shooting led with the race of Yarl and of Lester. Yarl was inevitably identified as a “Black” teenager and Lester as a “white” homeowner. The Kansas City district attorney validated the race narrative. The shooting had a “racial component,” the prosecutor said, without offering evidence. (The DA has charged Lester with assault in the first degree because the potential maximum sentence—life in prison—is higher than that for attempted murder.)
President Biden weighed in with his usual trope about black parents living in daily fear for their children’s lives in racist America. “Last night, I had a chance to call Ralph Yarl and his family,” Biden tweeted. “No parent should have to worry that their kid will be shot after ringing the wrong doorbell.” For once Biden left out “black,” but his formula by now is so routine (“Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter came home from walking down the street, playing in the park or just driving a car,” as “Brown and Black parents” have to do, Biden asked in his 2023 State of the Union address) that he doesn’t need the descriptor to get his racial message across. Biden invited Yarl to visit the White House when he had recovered.
Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas made no effort to defuse the race angle that the press, the president, and his fellow Democrats had instantaneously imposed on the incident. Yarl was shot because he was black by someone who “clearly, clearly fears Black people,” Lucas said. The incident shows why “Black people and Black parents” are concerned that merely “existing while black” can get you shot by a white person, Lucas said. The ubiquitous fomenter of racial resentment, attorney Benjamin Crump, demanded that “gun violence against unarmed Black individuals must stop. Our children should feel safe, not as though they are being hunted.”
Race protests took the same line. “They killin [sic] us for no reason,” read a protest sign in Kansas City. The public was enjoined to “say his [i.e., Yarl’s] name.” This naming injunction is now a standard component of the claim that white America suppresses awareness of its anti-black violence and that it relegates such alleged civil rights heroes as Michael Brown and George Floyd to obscurity.
A professor of African American Studies and a faculty associate with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Jazz Studies at Princeton University further ratcheted up the racial bathos. Imani Perry recounted in The Atlantic the “terror and grace of raising Black children in the United States.” Millions have protested the “premature deaths of Black innocents,” Perry wrote, without having any effect on the suffering of “Black folks.”
Two days after the Yarl shooting, on April 15, a 20-year-old girl was fatally shot when a car she was in entered the wrong driveway in upstate New York. Three days after that, on April 18, two cheerleaders were shot, one critically, in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one tried mistakenly to get into a stranger’s car. There were no protests around those shootings, invitations to the White House, or injunctions to say the victims’ names, because the decedent and the other victims were all white. But the fact that all three victims were white still did not dislodge the idea that “knocking on the door,” in Mayor Lucas’s words, was a particular threat to black people. Press accounts of the incidents continued to mention Yarl’s race, while staying mum about the female victims’ race.
A Chicago Tribune story on the Texas cheerleaders shooting was typical: “The attack [on the cheerleaders] comes days after two high-profile shootings that occurred after victims went to mistaken addresses. In one case, a Black teen was shot and wounded after going to the wrong Kansas City, Missouri, home to pick up his younger brothers. In the other, a woman looking for a friend’s house in upstate New York was shot and killed after the car she was riding in mistakenly went to the wrong address.”
A frontpage article in the New York Times on April 21 discussed other mistaken-house shootings that had come to light, also outside of the black-victim-white perpetrator paradigm. Only in the Yarl case did the Times continue to give the race of the victim and perpetrator. “Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old white homeowner in Kansas City, Mo., accused of wounding Ralph Yarl, who is Black, has been charged with assault and armed criminal action,” wrote the Times, while “Kevin Monahan, 65, the upstate New York homeowner accused of killing Kaylin Gillis [who had mistakenly entered Monahan’s driveway], has been charged with murder.”
There was a black victim in one of the other mistaken-house shootings discussed in the April 21 Times article: Omarian Banks, killed in March 2019 after ringing the wrong doorbell in an Atlanta apartment complex. Banks’s girlfriend heard one shot and then heard Banks yell: “I’m sorry, bro. I’m at the wrong house.” The tenant allegedly responded: “Nah, nigger, you’re not at the wrong house,” before firing two more times. The Times omitted the race of Banks and of his killer, Darryl Bynes, because Bynes was black. There was thus no possible “racial component” to the shooting, in the Times’s ideology. The initial contemporaneous reporting on the Banks shooting also omitted the race of the victim and perpetrator.
Despite the numerous trespass shootings that have been reported on since the Yarl shooting, the Times remains staunchly committed to its racism narrative. On April 24, the paper ran an article on how the Yarl shooting revealed the persistence of racism in Kansas City. Never mind that the city’s majority-white population had thrice elected a black mayor and had sent a black representative to Congress. That cross-racial voting just shows how “like this veil of [white] nicety and smiles . . . kind of overlays microaggressions and all kinds of crazy stuff,” the founder of a nonprofit that seeks to empower black women told the paper.
The narrative that blacks are at elevated risk for “existing while black” is true, but not because whites are killing them. Their assailants are other blacks, which means that these black victims are of no interest to the race activists and to their media and political allies.
Kansas City’s black-white homicide disparity is typical. In 2022, blacks made up 60 percent of homicide victims, though they are 26.5 percent of the population. Whites were 22 percent of homicide victims, though they make up 60 percent of the Kansas City population. A black Kansas Cityean was six times more likely to be killed in 2022 than a white Kansas Cityean. So far this year, blacks make up 75 percent of homicide victims.
The toll on black children has been particularly acute. In the first nine months of 2020, 13 black children were killed in shootings in Kansas City. Those child victims included one-year-old Tyron Patton, killed when someone riddled the car in which he was riding with bullets, and four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, fatally shot while sleeping in his father’s apartment. No Black Lives Matter activist showed up to “say their names.” Imani Perry did not weigh in on the “terror and grace of raising Black children in the United States.” Their deaths were again of no interest to the race advocates because their killers were black. In 2022, ten children aged 17 and younger were killed in Kansas City, also without racial protest, because those children were not killed by whites and thus did not matter from a racial PR perspective. The maudlin dirge that blacks are victims of lethal white supremacy is ludicrous, in Kansas City and every other American metropolis.