‘An Attack Against a Community’: Tensions Mount as Trial for Men Charged In Slaying of Ahmaud Arbery Turns Focus on Black Pastors

“It’s an attack against a community of faith,” said John Perry, a Brunswick, Georgia pastor who stands in solidarity with dozens of Black pastors supporting the family of Ahmaud Arbery.

The trial of Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William Bryan, in the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, who was 25 when he was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, has gripped the nation. It comes at a time when Black communities across the country are anxiously awaiting the verdict on whether justice will see Arbery’s alleged killers locked away for murder or walk free.

Brunswick, Georgia, is about 70 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida, and has a population of 16,256 according to the latest census with 55 percent of its residents identifying as Black.  

Kevin Gough, attorney for Bryan, has complained to the judge that the presence of Black pastors in the courtroom seen consoling Arbery’s family is intimidating the jury which is made up of 11 white jurors and one Black juror.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Gough, objecting to the Nov. 10 presence in the courtroom of Rev. Al Sharpton, told Glynn County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley in court on Nov. 11, to the dismay of Black faith leaders.

Walmsley shut down that request last week and a similar made by Gough when the trial resumed on Monday of this week, when the attorney objected to the presence of Rev. Jesse Jackson in court on that day.

“The statement that attorney Gough made wasn’t uttered in privacy to a judge, literally the media took it around the country, so the statement has to be addressed,” said Perry who has served as senior pastor of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church for 15 years.

Perry’s had a front row seat to the Arbery case and says he and the broader Black community have experienced a range of emotions from the initial killing to the arrest of the McMichaels and Bryan, the jury selection and the trial itself.

“I’m affected on multiple levels, first and foremost, I’m a Black man, I was born into this world Black so I understand the implications of race but at the same time, I’m a citizen of this community,” Perry said.

Prayer sessions, marches and rallies have included community activists such as the Transformative Justice Coalition, well-known Black faith leaders, including Bishop William J. Barber, Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and everyday supporters of the Arbery family.

Perry says he takes offense at the comments aimed at Black faith leaders. He says during times of trauma it’s the responsibility of faith leaders to comfort and support the community during the murder trial gripping the Brunswick community, which has brought on a sense of anxiousness.

“We as persons who are ordained by God understand our role and responsibility is two-fold, first is to comfort those that are in trauma and secondly, it is to courageously confront injustice whenever it peaks its head up,” Perry said.

In response to attorney Gough’s plea to limit the presence of Black faith leaders, at least a hundred Black pastors are expected to converge this week on the Glynn County Courthouse where the murder trial is being held.  

“As a community, we’re welcoming those pastors, especially when you’re talking about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, they are senior statesmen, they have a track record that proves they stand for social justice so we welcome that to our community and we’re doing everything we can to ensure we show them some southern hospitality while they’re here,” Perry said of the planned convergence of pastors at the Glynn County courthouse.

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