Black pastors lead hundreds of marchers in support of the family of Ahmaud Arbery in Glen County
Brunswick, J.A.; When the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery returned to the witness stand Thursday morning, hundreds of religious leaders from across the country gathered outside the Glenn County Courthouse in support of the Arbery family.
They included Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton, whose presence in the courtroom with Arbery’s parents sparked comments from one of the defense attorneys in the case, who said he did not want “more black pastors” to sit in the courtroom with the Arbery family.
I didn’t come to the courtroom to protest. Sharpton said. “We are here today to pray that this family may be strong. We know the pain they are in. The same pain Emmett Till’s mother suffered. The same pain Trayvon Martin’s mother suffered.”
Attorney Kevin Gove, representing William “Rudy Bryan,” asked a judge last week to remove Sharpton from court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to sway the jury, which is disproportionately white. The judge refused, later calling Gove’s comments “disparaging.” Gough has since apologized for the comment but has repeatedly pointed out the presence of the priests and asked a judge not to allow them to be on the show.
Related: Defense lawyers stand trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death | full coverage: Ahmed Arbery case
Goff’s controversial remarks became a rallying cry, and several events took place in Glenn County on Thursday, including a breakfast, a prayer rally and a march.
That was a divisive statement. Not necessary at all. The family can have anyone there to support them. If the clergy happen to be black, Sharon Airy, who was attending breakfast, said. “It’s the kind of thing that we don’t really want to support in this community. We want to be there for each other, and that statement wasn’t helpful.”
As testimony resumed inside the Glen County Courthouse, with its four colossal columns, arched windows, and shaded grass, the group of mostly black pastors gathered outside—a sea of dark suits and white collars.
Many carried signs that read “Black pastors matter,” and some wore buttons with Arbery’s image and the hashtag they were using for the cause, “#JusticeForAhmaud.” A T-shirt vendor sold under a tent while a woman under another offered water and snacks and asked people to put donations into a pickle jar.
Criticizing the unsuccessful attempt to get black pastors out of court, Sharpton told the gathering that no one had questioned those sitting with the defendants’ families.
No lawyer can fire us. Because no matter where you are, God is there. “We will keep coming until we get justice.”
Martin Luther King III, son of slain civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., addressed the crowd, saying, “It only takes a few good women and men to make change.”
Marcus Arbery, Arbery’s father, said prayer has been key to helping blacks through centuries of slavery, violence, and discrimination in America. “That’s all we lived. That’s all we had was prayer. What do our grandmothers depend on?”
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the Arbery family, predicted that the defense would ask a judge to invalidate the trial over the demonstration outside the courtroom.
“We need preachers to come and pray for them in this crazy, inhumane situation,” he said. Earlier, protesters chanted the names of blacks who were killed in high-profile cases of alleged racism or police brutality.
Church wagons from a wide variety of denominations were parked along the streets around the courtroom. Reverend Gregory Edwards was broadcasting a Facebook Live video to his friends in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he was pastor of the resident community life church, United Church of Christ.
As soon as the call for pastors to come to Brunswick got out, Edwards said, he rearranged his schedule to fly down.
I was going for a walk,” said Edwards, who also runs a multi-religious and multiethnic community organizing group. Edwards said he cried when he watched a video of the 25-year-old black man being shot dead and thought about his three adult black sons.
“Through technology, we have been forced to bear witness to the public executions of our black brothers and sisters,” Edwards said.
Bishop Sylvester Williams, of the Third Episcopal Precinct of the Methodist Christian Episcopal Church, said he traveled from St. Louis.
“Because the eyes of the nation are watching what’s going on here, so I’m very optimistic this will send a message,” he said.
A group of businesses in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn county have joined together to serve up a lunch of free barbecue sandwiches, shrimp and side dishes before the priests gather. Organizer Mike Malley said the group wanted to show that the community was united and not divided by race.
“We thought that was a good thing with all these visitors,” Malley said.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked everyone for being there, telling the crowd that she was filled with joy amid a broken heart.
“My family and I are so grateful that these pastors come to give support because support is what we need. We need encouragement,” Cooper-Jones said. “This is a very difficult time for my family, and anyone who comes to lend us and give us strength and encouragement is greatly appreciated.”
After the defense attorney’s rest on Thursday, she reiterated how the prayer gathering meant so much to her.
“It was very encouraging to walk out the courthouse door at lunchtime,” Cooper-Jones said. “They took the time from their busy schedules to travel far and away to come and stand with me and my family in prayer, it really meant a lot to me. I did.”
Cooper Jones was on the show listening Thursday morning as prosecutors continued to question Travis McMichael, the man who shot her son.
McMichael testified on Wednesday that Arbery forced him to make a split-second “life or death” decision by attacking him and grabbing his rifle. On Thursday, he testified that Arbery did not speak, did not show a weapon, and did not threaten him in any way before He raised his gun and pointed it at him.
Attorney General Linda Denikowski, who led McMichael’s interrogation, claimed there was no justification for McMichael and his father to arm themselves and stalk Arbery when he passed near their Georgia home on February 23, 2020.
The shooting exacerbated national outrage over racial injustice after a mobile phone video of Arbery’s death was leaked online two months later.
McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck after he drove past their home from a nearby house under construction. Brian, a neighbor, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded the video.
The McMichael family told police they suspected Arbery was a thief because security cameras recorded him multiple times in an unfinished house on their street.
Prosecutors say the men chased Arbery for five minutes and used their trucks to prevent him from fleeing their area before Travis McMichael shot him. The defense claimed that Arbery was killed in self-defence.
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