Local pastors discuss Ferguson, police, race | News
As the national spotlight shines on tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, a local pastor facilitated a discussion on confrontations between citizens and police and race relations in central Georgia.
Tuesday, 10 pastors from Warner Robins, Macon and Fort Valley gathered around one table.
They discussed their responsibilities as religious leaders to build better relationships between their congregations and law enforcement.
They also talked about the perceptions among young people, especially minorities, of police officers.
"What can we learn from the events in Ferguson?" Pastor Wynn asks, opening the discussion.
These individuals came together not just as church leaders, but also community leaders, as they emphasized the importance of leading by example.
"Somebody is listening to you," said Wynn. "When I sit on this pulpit, if I say something that is anti-police or anti-white, they say 'Oh I'm going to think that because my pastor said it.'"
The religious leaders say first step in combating the issues that lead to the unrest like that in Ferguson is to talk about it.
"It's coming together on a regular basis to communicate with each other," say Pastor K.D. Dawsey of Central Union Baptist Church. "It's very difficult to negotiate, to work with, or to help diffuse situations with people you don't know."
Parents also have to take initiative in teaching their children how to respond to authority figures.
"What are we doing, not just as pastors, but as parents?" asked youth Pastor Jonathan Lawder of Fellowship Bible Baptist Church. "Allowing kids to raise themselves instead of us being the voice. "
Ferguson could happen anywhere. Being proactive will make sure that things do not reach a boiling point.
"It's brought awareness to Middle Georgia because we have things to do in our area to fix problems here," says Lawder. "Here's the thing, don't speak on a national issue if you have not spoken on local issues."
Pastor K.D. Dawsey thinks one of those issues may be a lack of representation and uses Warner Robins as an example.
"Our police department make-up looks a whole lot like Ferguson, MO," he says. "Ferguson is 99 percent black with, I think, 53 police officers. Fifty of those are white."
According to the U.S. Census, Ferguson is 67 percent black.
Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans admits that the issue of hiring minority officers is something he's heard about in the community.
"It's been a question that's been raised and my answer will always be the same -- we hire the best possible candidates," he said. "We look at candidates based on qualifications."
The department wasn't able to produce specifics on the number of minority officers on the force, but Evans said he believes they're doing better than they've done in the past.
The head of Warner Robins NAACP complained a few years ago that the department only had 5 percent black officers in a town that's 32 percent black.
Based on the discussion, open dialogue and teaching the young people to respect authority will help prevent a problem from happening.
"Are we going to go back to our own little issues before something else happens?" asks Wynn. "We have to stop reacting and start being proactive, and that means staying together before, during, and after. "
The pastors say this is not just an issue of race, but one of respect.
"All police officers aren't bad, just like all young people aren't bad," said Lawder.
Things will not change overnight. But Wynn has more events planned this week that he hopes will help inspire more people coming together.
At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Wynn will be addressing young people specifically. He will explain how to respect police and other authority figures and the rights they do have if they are in a situation with an officer.
Thursday, Wynn will be joining his friend Pastor Jordan Poole at Warner Robins City Hall. The event is called "Unity in the Community" and is meant to be representative of races coming together.