A group of local ministers gathered today to make a statement regarding the recent string of shootings in the Pensacola area. The First West Florida Baptist District Association is concerned about the impact the violence is having on their communities and congregations.
“Too many of our young people are dying,” said Rev. Tyler Hardeman, president of the Baptist Ministers Union. “Our eyes are not closed. Our ears are open to hear the concerns of the citizens of this county.”
The group of ministers made their statement this afternoon in front of a small audience, which included Mayor Ashton Hayward and Police Chief Chip Simmons, at the First West Florida Baptist Center on Strong Street. The collective was responding to the area’s growing gun violence.
Pastor Bernard Yates, who serves locally at Primitive Zion Baptist Church and is also the president of the National Primitive Baptist Convention, said that the local community needed to tend to the problem. He said that the African-American church communities needed to be a part of that effort.
“We’re not just going to leave this to the law enforcement agencies of our city and county,” Yates said, emphasizing the personal stake the community had in the issue. “Their funerals and their caskets come to our churches. They’re our kids and grandkids.”
The pastor of First Baptist Church in Warrington, Dr. James Miller, used to work in law enforcement. He spent the last 10 of his 34 years in the field serving as chief of police in Foley, Ala.
“We saw the problem then,” Miller said. “We didn’t see it coming in this magnitude, but nevertheless we are here.”
The pastor tied the area’s violence to the prevalence of guns.
“The problem is too many young people have weapons, they don’t know how to handle weapons. They’re making bad decisions and their bad decisions result in the loss of life,” Miller said, later adding, “Back when we would fight, it was fist-on-fist, and we got it out, we got through with it.”
Pastor Lonnie Wesley, of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church, said that the ministers hoped to be “the voice of safety, the voice of reason,” and that the group hoped to work with local law enforcement officials in the effort.
“The number of citizens afraid to sit on their porch is growing,” Wesley said. “No one can do it alone, but together we can do it.”
Police Chief Simmons said he was glad the group wanted to help. He had held his own press conference earlier in the summer, announcing increased patrols in response to drive-by shootings.
“I think that is a powerful voice, powerful force,” Simmons said.
After the ministers made their statement and walked off the small stage at the front of the room, Hardeman stepped to the side and stood near a red drum set. He said he didn’t know what the next step should be, but that the group wanted to be involved in whatever the next step would be.
“It’s easy to pray about the situation, it’s easy to talk about the situation,” Hardeman said, “but there comes a time when we have to put some legs on our prayers and walk the walk.”