Don’t Knock On Just Any Door

Ralph Yarl is a sixteen year old Black kid who knocked on the wrong door in Kansas City, MO. He was supposed to pick up his siblings, but as you can see from the featured image, went to NE 115th Street, not NE 115th Terrace. An innocent mistake that led to young Yarl being shot in the head. It was not fatal. He’s home recuperating. We wish him nothing but the best.

We wish nothing but the worst for the man who shot Ralph. Andrew Lester is a walking, talking stereotype. He’s a paranoid and fearful 84-year-old white man who consumes way too much right-wing media for his own good and that of Ralph Yarl.

There’s a terrific piece in the NYT with money quotes from Lester’s liberal grandson and a neighbor:

“Klint Ludwig, a grandson, said in an interview that he and his grandfather used to be close. The two had become estranged in part, Mr. Ludwig said, because Mr. Lester had embraced right-wing conspiracy theories.


But at a family gathering during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Ludwig said, Mr. Lester began sharing a conspiracy theory involving Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the infectious disease expert.

“I was like, ‘Man, this sounds crazy,’” recalled Mr. Ludwig, 28. “I told him it was ridiculous.”

The two have not had a relationship since, Mr. Ludwig said.”

Mr. Ludwig, who lives in a suburb of Kansas City, described his grandfather as prone to making remarks that he considered disparaging about Black people, gay people and immigrants.

That’s not an unusual story in the Trump era. Few families have emerged unscathed from the maelstrom of hatred, fear, and bigotry stirred up by former President* Pennywise and his deplorable followers. I just said the D word. Suck on it, MSM.

One of Andrew Lester’s neighbors posed a pertinent question:

“Karen Allman, who lives down the street from Mr. Lester, said that while she did not know him, she was not surprised that the conflict occurred. Many of her neighbors are older, she said, and “set in their ways.”

“The fact that you would open up the door and just shoot somebody? I don’t understand,” she said. “If you’re that scared, why did you open up the door? And that gentleman has security cameras all over.”

Fear is a terrible thing. It makes people do terrible things. When firearms are added to the mix, it can easily escalate from “get off my lawn” to shooting someone who knocked on the wrong door.

Nobody should be shot for knocking on the wrong door.

There’s a lot of talk about anger in our well-armed country. Anger and fear are intimately connected. Most angry people that I’ve known are scared. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re afraid of. A knock on the door should never lead to gunfire.

The Ralph Yarl shooting reminds me of an incident in Baton Rouge in 1992. It’s a similar scenario with a twist: linguistic and cultural misunderstandings left a sixteen-year-old Japanese exchange student, Yoshi Hattori, shot dead for knocking on the wrong door.

Nobody should be shot for knocking on the wrong door.

Here’s how it happened:

“Webb and Yoshi knocked on the door but got no answer. They then saw a woman open the side garage door and peer out before abruptly slamming it in their faces.

“We were walking away sort of confused, I had started to walk down the block wondering if it was a different house,” Webb said. “But then someone opened the door – Rodney Peairs opened the door.”

Rodney Peairs, a 30-year-old supermarket butcher, was holding a .44 Magnum revolver. Yoshi turned back towards him.

“He was very eager to get to the party and didn’t understand, I guess, that [Peairs] had a gun. Maybe he thought it was a Halloween thing,” Webb said. “He was light on his feet and just sang, in a very boisterous way, ‘We’re here for the party! We’re here for the party!’ – sort of happy.”                                                                                                                                 

Peairs shouted “Freeze!” but Yoshi seemed not to understand and kept moving forwards. Peairs fired once, hitting Yoshi in the chest, and slammed the door.”

The shooter was originally released without charges, but public pressure landed him in the dock. He was charged with manslaughter. Peairs’ lawyers mounted a classic castle doctrine defense. He was acquitted after a jury deliberated for a mere three hours.

Both the Hattori and Yarl shootings were rooted in fear and bigotry. Fear of the OTHER in both cities.

In Kansas City, fear of and animus towards Black people motivated Andrew Lester to shoot Ralph Yarl. He survived.

In  Baton Rouge, fear of and animus towards Asians and foreigners motivated Rodney Peairs to shoot and kill Yoshi Hattori.

Nobody should be shot for knocking on the wrong door.

I wrote about the slaying of Yoshi Hattori because it contains a kernel of hope. Yoshi’s parents began a crusade against gun violence. They’ve remained engaged in the struggle for gun sanity to this very day. They’ve set an example for us all.

The post title was inspired by this 1949 collaboration between Humphrey Bogart and director Nicholas Ray:

The title referred to the stirring speech Bogie as a do-gooder lawyer made on behalf of his client with the refrain Knock On Any Door. I flipped that notion on its head, added two words, and made it Don’t Knock On Just Any Door.

It’s an admonition I’d prefer not to issue but behind the next door could be an angry, scared, and bigoted man with a gun. Be careful out there.

Nobody should be shot because they knocked on the wrong door like Yoshi Hattori and Ralph Yarl.

Andrew Lester was afraid of young Black men, so he shot this guy:

Look at that face. Is that the face of a menace to society? Looks like a sweet kid to me but Andrew Lester shot him in the head.

Yoshi Hattori was a sweet kid too:

Neither the kid holding the clarinet nor the kid holding the fish were dangerous. The danger came from fearful and bigoted men with guns.

Fear does terrible things to people. Acting out of fear and bigotry never led to anything good. Just ask Ralph Yarl. He’s lived to answer that question. Yoshi Hattori cannot. He died at the age of sixteen.

Repeat after me: Nobody should be shot because they knocked on the wrong door.

The last word goes to The Rolling Stones:

2 thoughts on “Don’t Knock On Just Any Door

  1. This is very tragic. I believe that the fear is within these bigots and they project it onto people who they deem a threat.

  2. “Nobody should be shot for knocking on the wrong door.” But they’re going to be shot, because we as a country have agreed that doing so is right and proper and reasonable. A better way to say it is “Nobody should be ACQUITTED for shooting someone just for knocking on the wrong door.” The Castle Doctrine amounts to legalized homicide and has to be abolished. We still have brains and should be required to use them before getting off scot free for manslaughter.

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