Atlanta megachurch pastor Wiley Jackson says he not only forgives the men accused of killing his younger brother, he’s sorry they destroyed their own lives as well.
“I mean, my family’s impacted. Their family’s impacted,” the bishop of Gospel Tabernacle Cathedral and its branches in Stone Mountain and Griffin told his congregation in a service that was streamed live on the church’s webite. “It’s time that we all got to step up and do something. What could make young men have so much anger that they want to do harm to someone?”
The May 7 shooting of Jerrick Jackson, 47, was part of a string of crimes that has put Atlanta, DeKalb and Decatur residents on edge this year.
He and his fiancee were accosted outside their northwest Atlanta home by several men who robbed them of a wallet and purse and forced them inside. They had just returned home from a fast-food restaurant around 1 a.m. when they were approached by several males with guns drawn, police said.
One of the suspects wound up shooting Jackson multiple times in the torso, according to police. The congregation applauded when the bishop announced that two men had been arrested.
“Thank God for the police department,” he said. “Thank God for the news media. Thank God for all the pastors … who are joining my voice saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”
But Sunday’s message was multilayered and full of mixed emotions. Speaking publicly for the first time about the two charged, Jackson lamented that young men could be driven to such hatred and violence, leading them to a probable lifetime behind bars.
“How we’re grateful on one side that they’ve been arrested,” he said, “we’re sad on the other side in that a life, or lives, have been misdirected.”
The pastor also spoke about the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. — an injustice, he said, but a consequence of being black in America and handling a situation all wrong. Expert guest speakers offered advice on how to react to profiling without getting shot or arrested.
During most of the sermon, Jackson wore a black hoodie sweatshirt and held a bag of Skittles candy and a bottle of iced tea, references to what Martin was wearing and carrying the night he died.
He called on the city to intervene in the lives of troubled youth, steering them to activities such as sports instead of street crime. Jackson said his church would hold monthly informational sessions such as the one held Sunday, where Hogansville Assistant Police Chief John Pearson and attorney Christopher Chestnut told parishioners about their legal rights, and how those rights can be limited because of sweeping generalizations made about black people in America.
He held up his brother — how he fought back in the botched robbery — as an example of how not to respond to a crime. He said the killers wanted to steal his brother’s Porsche SUV.“Give ‘em the keys,” Jackson said. “Ask them if they want your clothes. Even if you have to walk away naked, I’ll be able to hug you again.”
An Atlanta police spokesman would not comment on the bishop’s account of his brother’s killing.
“We haven’t released specifics other than that the motive appeared to be robbery,” Sgt. Greg Lyon said in an email.
Alejandro “Big Poppa” Pitts, 18, was arrested Thursday by Atlanta police and U.S. Marshals, and Geno Lewis, 19, turned himself in to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office on Friday. Both are charged with murder and armed robbery.
Authorities say they expect to make more arrests.Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner have voiced concern about recent high-profile crimes’ impact on victims and communities, but they’ve referenced crime statistics that show a downward trend.
But crimes that typically fuel residential anger have increased. Robberies are up 15 percent, burglaries are up 5 percent and auto thefts are up 2 percent in the 12 months ending in June, according to APD figures.