BERKELEY, Mo. — A prominent black Christian leader who works with youth says that our nation needs to stop pointing fingers at the police and start preaching the gospel following the second shooting in the Ferguson, Missouri area, which resulted in the death of an armed teenager.
At approximately 11 p.m. Tuesday night, a police officer with the city of Berkeley—just two miles outside of Ferguson—arrived at a local Mobil on the Run convenient store after receiving a report of theft.
The officer, who has not yet been identified but is described as a 34-year-old white male, met and spoke with two young men outside, one of which was 18-year-old Antonio Martin. According to the St. Louis County Police Department, Martin had been arrested three times over the past year for armed robbery, assault and the illegal use of a weapon.
Moments into the discussion, according to police and video surveillance from the scene, the teen pulled a gun on the officer, who then fired three shots. One of the bullets struck Martin, who died from his injuries.
Violent protests broke out the same night with approximately 300 area residents gathering outside of and across the street from the convenient store. Reports state that some of the protesters threw bricks at the officers who arrived to keep order, while others screamed at or assaulted the police. One officer was taken to the emergency room after a protester lit fireworks, and another was injured after being hit by a brick or rock. A fire was also started down the street but extinguished.
“Our hearts certainly go out to the family, but bad choices were made,” Col. Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, said in a statement Wednesday. “This individual could have complied with the officer, he could have run away, he could have dropped the gun. Things did not have to end with him approaching an officer with a 9mm pistol in his hand.”
Jesse Lee Peterson, a California pastor, president of the organization BOND (the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), and leader of the BOND Leadership Academy for youth told Christian News Network that he agrees with the police on the issue and does not see the incident as being racially motivated.
“When he made that decision [to pull the gun on the officer], he made the decision that he was ready to die, because you don’t pull guns on cops and think that you’re going to get away with it,” he opined.
Peterson said that instead of the crowds placing the blame on police officers for these incidents, they should be more concerned with the lifestyle choices that are leading youth to their death in the first place.
“God is not in the hearts of these young boys and girls, and accusing the officers of being racist is not going to solve the problem,” he stated. “If anything, it’s going to encourage these boys and girls to do what they’re doing—to confront the cops even more so.”
“This is not a racial thing going on; this is due to a lack of moral values,” Peterson asserted, contrary to the messages of protesters and statements from black leaders. “Sin doesn’t care how old you are or how black or white you are. It doesn’t care if you’re a male or female; it will destroy anything that gets in its way. … It’s not about color. It’s about good versus evil, right versus wrong.”
He agreed that many today have lost their respect for those that God has placed in authority over them—and have no fear of God Himself.
“They absolutely have no fear of authority anymore,” Peterson said. “They have no fear of their parents because most of them are coming from single parent homes, [and] at some point, the mothers and grandmothers can’t do anything with them. … They don’t respect God and the values of God and the love of God. They’re not afraid of God because they’re not being taught how to love God and believe in Him.”
“They don’t respect the authority in the public school system. They have no respect for their teachers, their principals,” he continued. “They don’t respect the police officers because they have no respect coming from the homes, so they don’t respect the authority of the officers.”
“If they don’t respect God, if they don’t respect the authority of their fathers and mothers, they are not going to respect authority once they walk out of their home,” Peterson stated.
He said that the answer to the problems the nation is facing in Berkeley, Ferguson and in cities around the world is the gospel.
“We need to preach the gospel to these children, get them to repent [and] turn away from their wicked ways and to God,” Peterson explained. “Because if you don’t change their hearts by getting them to repent, nothing is going to change with them.”
He noted that change needs to begin in the home as well.
“We need to rebuild families,” Peterson advised. “We need to encourage single people to wait until marriage to have sex because sex brings on children and it’s difficult for single mothers to raise children on their own. They need God’s order. They need a father and a mother, and Christ needs to be the head of the family.”
Peterson opined that many churches are also to blame for the condition of today’s youth because they are not endeavoring to seek and save the lost.
“Many, if not most, of the churches have allowed secularism to creep in, and they’re too afraid to tell the truth. They’re afraid to be honest with the men and women who need to repent,” he said. “They’re afraid to rebuke because they don’t want the congregation to leave; big churches are more important to them than salvation itself. And since the churches are failing, the families are [also consequently] failing.”
“We need the Church to turn back to God and go back to being honest and strong and showing these people real love [by] pointing the way to God,” he said.