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As civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton promised, Black pastors from all over the country appeared on the steps of the Glynn County courthouse Thursday in a “wall of prayer” to support the family of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by white men on Feb. 23, 2020.
The clergy in attendance prayed and stood, emotionally and physically, with the parents of Arbery, the Black jogger who was killed by three white men in a south Georgia coastal neighborhood.
“Many carried signs reading, ‘Black pastors matter,’ and some wore buttons with Arbery’s picture and the hashtag they were using for the case, ‘#JusticeForAhmaud,’” the Associated Press reported. “A vendor sold T-shirts under one tent while a woman under another offered water and snacks and asked people to put donations in a pickle jar.”
Starting with Sharpton, speakers included Arbery’s parents, Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper-Jones; their attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt; his sister, Jasmine Arbery; and human rights advocate Martin Luther King III.
The wider show of support for the family stems from comments made by Kevin Gough, defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, one of the men currently on trial for murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment in the death of the 25-year-old Arbery. Gough, now infamously, said last week he didn’t want any more “Black pastors” in the gallery of the courtroom, concerned their presence could intimidate, influence and/or taint the jury.
Gough specifically pointed out the appearance of Sharpton and then the Rev. Jesse Jackson, saying these Black civil rights icons sitting with Arbery’s parents could make the jury feel sympathetic to their grief.
“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here, Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence the jury in this case,” Gough said.
Sharpton then put a call out to faith leaders and clergy members to join him outside the courthouse for a prayer vigil Thursday.
He opened the vigil by thanking the assembled ministers. “We asked for 100 to come, there are hundreds here this morning,” he said. While the number of actual pastors could not be confirmed by Yahoo News, there was definitely a crowd of more than 100 people present.
Crump, a national civil rights attorney representing Marcus Arbery, called out Gough during his speech. “It is so offensive on every level to tell these parents, Wanda and Marcus, after your clients lynched their [child], to have the audacity to say who you can have come and give you spiritual comfort,” he said.
Cooper-Jones talked about the pain of trying to get answers following Arbery’s death. Now, she has people from all over the world supporting her family.
“I just want to say thank you,” she said. “My heart is just full of joy in the midst of this broken heart.”
The attorneys for co-defendants Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, joined Gough in a motion for a mistrial. They cited the high-profile visits as well as weeping from Arbery’s mother in the courtroom as constituting an unfair trial for their clients.
Both of Arbery’s parents have shown emotion as they continue to witness the trial of the three men accused of murdering their son. Arbery was jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga., when Bryan and the McMichaels, three white residents, suspected him of being a burglar. They chased him down and confronted him after calling 911.
The encounter ended in gunfire when the younger McMichael confronted Arbery with a shotgun outside of his truck and the two tussled. On Wednesday and Thursday, Travis McMichael testified as the defense made its arguments. He told the court: “He had my gun, he struck me, it was obvious ... that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then it was a life-or-death situation.”
Motivated by vehicle break-ins, rising crime and the appearance of a man inside a nearby home under construction, McMichael testified that the defendants were concerned about what was happening in the neighborhood.
Bryan’s role in the killing allegedly included cutting Arbery off and recording video of the encounter.
On Thursday, the attorneys for the McMichaels and Bryan rested their case after two days of presenting their defense and interviewing seven witnesses.
Each defendant could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The Black pastors who appeared outside the courtroom on Thursday also made their case.
“People came from all over the world to stand with the parents and say, ‘You are not standing by yourself,’” Sharpton said.
“Arbery might have looked like a suspect to you, but he’s a child of God,” Sharpton continued. “That’s why we are in Brunswick today, because we represent a God that’ll make a way out of no way, and no lawyer can lock us out, because wherever you are, God is already there.”