Prosecutor Paul Camarillo questions a potential juror during jury selection in the trial of the three men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, at the Gwynn County Superior Court, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. (Elijah Nouvelage/Pool Photo via AP/The Georgia Recorder).
By Chanel Hill
PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of Black pastors from around the nation travelled to Brunswick, Ga., for a prayer vigil Thursday at the Glynn County Courthouse in support of the family of Ahmaud Arbery.
Among the local pastors attending the event is the senior pastor of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Mark Tyler.
Tyler, who rode his motorcycle down to Brunswick, went with a group of other clergy and lay people from Power Interfaith, a grassroots organization of over 50 Pennsylvania congregations committed to racial and economic justice.
“We traveled to the site of the trial in Georgia to show support for the Arbery family and to stand in solidarity with Black people around the world who struggle in similar situations,” Tyler said.
The prayer vigil comes after the defense attorney Kevin Gough objected to the presence of civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton in the courtroom, where he also requested no more “Black pastors” sit in the courtroom with Arbery’s family, alleging it was intimidating the jury.
Judge Timothy Walmsley called the remarks “reprehensible” and no group would be excluded from his courtroom.
Sharpton held a prayer vigil and news conference outside the Glynn County Courthouse last week to show support for Arbery’s family. Afterward he joined Arbery’s parents and their lawyers to listen to portions of the trial testimony.
At the time, Sharpton said in a statement that Gough’s remarks showed “arrogant insensitivity.”
“I respect the defense attorney doing his job,” Sharpton said, “but this is beyond defending your client, it is insulting the family.”
Tyler said he was not only offended by Gough’s comments, but that it was a direct attack on the Black church.
“The defense attorney’s comments about Black pastors were a direct attack on the Black church, rooted in a historical reality,” Tyler said.
“It’s the same history that made those men chase Ahmaud Arbery down, assuming he was suspicious because of the color of his skin,” he said. “It’s the same history that caused every Black juror except for one to be stricken from the jury.
“Now it rears its head again in this attempt to keep Black faith leaders silent and on the sidelines, prevented from fighting for social justice,” he added. “We won’t let it happen.”
In response to the attempted ban of Black pastors, Sharpton and the National Action Network called for clergy to meet him outside the courthouse to pray for the Arbery family and for justice.
Jamal Bryant, pastor of the metro Atlanta megachurch New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, organized the event.
“They tried to ban one,” Sharpton said. “We’re coming back with hundreds.”
Power Interfaith executive directive Bishop Dwayne Royster said the remarks made by Gough were an invitation for preachers to support the Arbery family.
“When the defense attorney said he didn’t want any more Black pastors at the trial, he called out the Black church,” Royster said in a statement. “That was an invitation for us as preachers to show up for Ahmaud Arbery’s family.
“You cannot put restrictions on the support of the Black community, in spiritual or physical form,” he added. “He can expect to see a lot more Black pastors down here in solidarity with the victim’s family, and we aren’t going away.”
The prayer vigil will take place on the steps of the courthouse. The pastors will form a wall of prayer.
“We will be praying for the Arbery family and and praying for justice for all families throughout our country who have gone through similar cases,” Tyler said.
“We’re also going to be a visible witness that you will not intimidate us while we stand in solidarity with our community,” he added. “If you don’t want us there, too bad we’re showing up anyway.”
Tyler, who will be returning to Philadelphia after the event, said Interfaith Power will continue to work with clergy members of Brunswick after they leave.
“Once we leave, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be still coordinating and working with people on the ground,” Tyler said.
“There is still tremendous organizing by clergy and activists in Brunswick, their own organizing efforts that are being done,” he added. “We’re just simply coming as an external force, reminding them of what Dr. King said that ‘an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Arbery, 25, was chased and fatally shot in February after three men saw him running in their neighborhood in Brunswick.
William “Roddie” Bryan along with father and son Greg and Travis McMichael are charged with felony murder and other crimes in Arbery’s killing including malice, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The three men allege they attempted to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected Arbery was doing something illegal. If convicted, each could face life in prison.
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