Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 19th 2018

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‘This Is Not Cool’

A Community Cries Out for Relief

By Jeremy Morrison

It was a beautiful day in the park. Barbecued smoke spilled from large barrel grills and mixed with the gospel music coming out of the PA system. A copy of the Bible sunbathed on the hood of a Ram pickup truck.

Pastor Lonnie Wesley, of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church, soaked it in. He relished the day, but not the reason.

“I grew up just on the other side of those trees,” Wesley said, pointing across Westernmark Park. “I rode my bike up and down this street.”

He motions up and down Erress Boulevard, waving to a driver searching for a place to park. The street is lined with cars. People have come for the barbecue and a glimpse of hope.

“We’re like Jesus,” he would later joke. “We just want to use the food to get everyone to listen to what we have to say—it’s hard to listen when you’re hungry.”

The pastor is concerned about his community. He’s concerned about the increase in violence and crime. Wesley came to the park off of Massachusetts Avenue on Feb. 15, along with other religious and governmental leaders, for the 100 Man Walk—to eat, to speak out, to pick up litter and to let people “hear that somebody cares, somebody loves them.”

He elaborated later when speaking to the crowd gathered for the event.

“I hope you all came to help get the word out, that our community is not sitting by passively while blood’s shed onto the streets of Pensacola and Escambia County. No, we are not okay with this,” Wesley said when he took to the microphone. “This is not cool. It’s not cool at all. And we’re not going to stand for it.”

The pastor’s comments followed a series of speakers. Some of the more heartbreaking words were offered up by mothers.

“I just wish someone would come up and tell me where my child is,” said Sharon Gardner. “Michael, please come home to your mother.”

Garner’s son, Michael Lawson, has not been seen since Jan. 24. His car was found still running in the parking lot of Grocery Outlet on Brent Lane.

The 31-year-old Lawson has a criminal history—primarily drug convictions—and family members have voiced concern that his disappearance could be in retaliation for a drug-related shootout earlier in the month—for which his cousin has been arrested for—that left an 18-year-old dead. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating the disappearance.
“I feel like the system is failing me,” Garner told the crowd at Westernmark Park.

Rosa “Mama Rose” Dukes also spoke. Her son, Broderick Johnson, was found lying in a Diego Circle driveway, shot to death in May 2011. The murder remains unsolved.

“I never got over it,” Dukes said. “I never will.”

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