At Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church on Sunday, the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown prayed for Ferguson, Mo., for the family of Michael Brown Jr. “as they went through this Thanksgiving with a chair that had someone missing,” and for the church attended by Michael Brown Sr., destroyed by fire in the hours after a grand jury decision in his son’s killing was announced.
“Lord, we’re not advocating for violence, and Lord, we’re not looking for any lawlessness,” he said from the pulpit. “But we are looking for justice, and we are looking for people to stand at this critical time.”
Ministers and congregants continued calling for justice and asserting the dignity of young African-American men nearly a week after a grand jury’s decision not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr.
At Twelfth Baptist, where Boston residents and government officials had gathered Tuesday to discuss the grand jury decision, ministers commended local protesters for a peaceful march following that meeting and called for continued nonviolent efforts to bring racial equality.
“As we asked you last Sunday . . . whichever way the verdict went, remember that we’re a people of praise; . . . whatever demonstrations, whatever responses, that they should be done decently and in order,” said the Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr., the senior pastor. “I want to thank those of you that are here today because you responded decently and in order.”
The Rev. Willie Bodrick II, youth minister at Twelfth Baptist, said in an interview that he was “not . . . stunned” by the grand jury decision or the protests that followed, because “last year we heard a similar response to the Trayvon Martin verdict,” in which George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of the unarmed black teen.
Bodrick, 26, said he was “hurt” the Brown case did not proceed to trial, but the moment should be a learning opportunity.
“My hope is that we’re proactive in making sure that we deal with the real conversation of race in America, which I think is a deep wound that we as a country keep putting Band-Aids over,” he said.
At Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Miniard Culpepper said the parents of young men in the church, and the young men themselves, have been on “high alert” since the decision.
“We’re just beginning to start a new mentoring program for the young men,” he said. “But we’ve always made it a routine to teach our young men about how to carry themselves, especially when encountering the police.
“I have two sons, ages 23 and 24, both in law school right now. And I’ve always counseled them to follow whatever the police have asked them to do, to be respectful, and avoid confrontations.”
Outside Twelfth Baptist, congregants said they were frustrated, though not necessarily surprised, by the grand jury’s decision.
“It’s just unfair, really,” said Sasha Anselme, 20, of Randolph. “I feel like all these protests are actually good and they’re helpful. . . . Hopefully this will start to change things.”
Anselme said he has had no negative experiences with Boston police, and he believes the department’s relationship with the community is more respectful than in some cities; however, he also feels many people see him differently than they see a white man the same age.
Twelfth Baptist congregant Lindsay Joseph, 23, said she worries that her 3-year-old son may be treated differently because of the color of his skin.
Joseph, of Woburn, said in a phone interview Sunday that too often, people judge young black men based on stereotypes, and that the violence that has accompanied some Ferguson protests is driven by frustration.
“I don’t condone the violence by any means, but at the same time, too, it’s about looking at where the violence stems from as opposed to the violence itself,” she said. “It comes from poverty; it comes from poor education systems; it comes from mass incarceration; it comes from just not having the basic accommodations that people ought to have as Americans.”
At Pleasant Hill, Jackie Scott chatted with fellow parishioners about “how churches need to turn their lights on, literally and figuratively, to let people in the streets know to come in and get answers.”
Scott, a retired Boston teacher who has attended Pleasant Hill for 50 years, raised two sons, now 49 and 41, in the city.
“I remember when they were younger, encouraging them to be respectful in their dealings with police, but also praying for them to not get caught in the violence that happens between the young people,” Scott said.
“And that’s the same struggle parents of younger people are having today — from both sides,” she continued. “It’s tough, but like pastor has been saying, we are all one. Even though we don’t live in Ferguson, we’re still part of them, and they’re part of us.”