Black pastors from Philly will stand in solidarity with Ahmaud Arbery’s family in Georgia and that’s a good thing | Jenice Armstrong
A number of African American pastors from this area and around the country are traveling to Georgia for a prayer vigil Thursday on the steps of where Ahmaud Arbery's alleged killers are being tried.
On Monday, I got an email from a reader complaining about the presence of the Rev. Al Sharpton at the Georgia trial for three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery.
He wrote that Sharpton’s presence in the courtroom made the trial about race. A 78-year-old Bucks County resident, the emailer apparently didn’t pick up on the disturbing racial overtones of the case in which self-appointed vigilantes in the Deep South attempted to take an African American male into custody because they thought he looked suspicious.
» READ MORE: Defendant takes stand in trial over killing of Ahmaud Arbery
I immediately wrote him back pointing out certain details he may have missed: The three alleged killers are white and the victim, who had been jogging, was a young, unarmed Black man. I think he got my point and pretty much let it go, but I didn’t. In fact, he was the first person I thought of when I read that an attorney for one of the defendants had the temerity to object to the presence of Black pastors in the courtroom.
That’s what ministers do. Historically, when African Americans face legal issues that intersect with civil rights and social justice, the Black clergy is often front and center. I’m sure Arbery’s relatives feel less alone knowing some of the nation’s most prominent pastors are with them. I know I would.
But the defense attorney, Kevin Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, has a problem with their being in the courtroom. He told the judge: “Obviously there’s only so many pastors they can have, and the fact that their pastor’s Al Sharpton right now, that’s fine, but then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here, or other, Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
The judge in the case brushed aside Gough’s complaint, and even one of his fellow defense attorneys at the trial called his comments “asinine” and pointed out that all are welcome in the courtroom. Gough attempted a mealy-mouthed apology on Friday, but by then it was too late.
Now, some African American pastors from this area and other states are traveling to Georgia for a prayer vigil Thursday on the steps of the Glynn County Courthouse. The Rev. Mark Tyler of the historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church left Wednesday morning on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, the executive director of Power, which represents 50 Pennsylvania congregations, was scheduled to fly out Wednesday evening.
“Not only did this happen once, it’s happened twice now because they also went after Rev. [Jesse] Jackson yesterday for being there. It’s deeply disturbing,” Royster told me. “You can’t call out the Black church for doing its work — and our work is to provide comfort for families in very difficult situations and to be present for them. We also need to bear witness to injustice.”
They follow in the rich tradition of Black ministers who not only minister to the souls of their congregants but other aspects of their lives as well. They have every right to be there.
“You can’t really find a moment in American history where Black folk moved the needle forward where the Black church and Black preachers were not a part of it,” Tyler said.
Maybe they too will be accused of injecting race into a trial already heavily loaded with it.
Much has been made of the fact that only one Black person is on the jury in a state where African Americans make up 32.6% of the population. It took months for authorities to charge the defendants even though they had video of the February 2020 incident. If activists hadn’t marched and flooded social media with calls for justice — just as they did for Breonna Taylor, who was killed in a botched police raid in Louisville, Ky., the following month, and George Floyd, killed in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer — officials might never have acted.
As for my emailer, I like hearing from him. We are so different, but there are times when he gets where I’m coming from — and I do the same with him. In a Nov. 6 email, he pointed out how he has walked without incident through many houses under construction, as Arbery did shortly before he was killed. As a Black woman, I would never do that unless I was accompanied by a real estate agent for fear of being suspected of theft as Arbery was.
He also expressed hope that despite its racial makeup the jury will reach a just verdict and volunteered that Gough was an “a—” without spelling out what he meant. I suspect it’s a characterization I would agree with.