Black clergy, Arbery attorney react to defense’s ‘Black pastors’ courtroom comment

EXCLUSIVE: “This attorney has resoundingly made it clear that Black pastors still have a role in the pursuit of justice in America,” Pastor Jamal Bryant told theGrio.

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More than 100 Black pastors in Georgia are expected to pray for the family of Ahmaud Arbery next week Thursday, theGrio has learned.

This prayer is in direct response to defense attorney Kevin Gough’s request of the judge in the trial for Arbery’s death to not allow “Black pastors” to sit with the family inside the courtroom.  

Kevin Gough
Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during jury selection in the trial of the men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Superior Court, on October 27, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia. Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Photo by Octavio Jones-Pool/Getty Images)

Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, one of the three defendants in case, called out the names of high-profile activists Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton in his request that some have deemed racist. After the request, Judge Timothy Walmsley ultimately allowed Sharpton, who was present at the time, to remain in the courtroom.

Bryan, along with Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, is on trial for murder, among other charges, in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Arbery.

Speaking with theGrio about the courtroom exchange, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said, “It was clear that nobody was even aware of Reverend Al in the courtroom when he was in the courtroom. The speculation as to whether the jury was aware of his presence or not.”

Jamal Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, said the defense attorney’s statement about Black pastors was “disheartening on one hand and encouraging on the other.” 

Bryant said the comment yesterday highlighted the importance of the Black church and the raised questions like, “Is the Black church relevant? Does the Black pastor still have impact and influence?”

Jamal Bryant,
Jamal Bryant speaks during the 2021 King Holiday Observance Beloved Community Commemorative Service on January 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

“This attorney has resoundingly made it clear that Black pastors still have a role in the pursuit of justice in America,” Bryant told theGrio.

However, the Atlanta pastor highlights that it “shouldn’t just be Black pastors” speaking out against racial and human rights injustices.

“White pastors should be offering affirmation and prayers and encouragement. We’ve got historical evidence and reference of having pastors of different walks of faith and ethnicities walking alongside, and so I’m hoping that other pastors will stand with us,” added Bryant.

Lee Merritt, the Arbery family attorney, said the defense is looking to have a mistrial and create a hostile environment. Merritt’s words beg the question: What was the defense attorney’s comments meant to do?

When it comes to the potential outcome of the trial, Crump said, “I don’t take anything for granted.”

Ben Crump and Lee Merritt
Left to right: Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt. (Photo: Getty Images)

Crump, acknowledging the hard to ignore factor of race in the trial, lamented that “even though the evidence is overwhelming, you have a jury that is made up of 11 white people and one Black man. And we know that people play up on these stereotypes.”

He added, “Far too often in America, [there are] prejudices of this scary Black person. And even though that video is so damning, they are just trying to get one White member of the jury to say, ‘Well, I see the perspective of the White man who killed him.’”

The prosecution is expected to continue with its presentation and then the defense will give their opening statement. Gough made an unusual request to follow the state’s opening presentation. The trial is expected to last a month.

Merritt, the Arbery family attorney, acknowledged an irony in the case that defendant Gregory McMichael, a retired Glynn County police officer, investigated a young Ahmaud Arbery who received probation as a child for shoplifting. It is not believed that McMichael remembered Arbery at the time of his killing.

Beverly Green of the Transformative Justice Coalition demonstrates Monday at the Glynn County Courthouse, where jury selection began in the trial of the defendants in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

There are two vigilante trials immersed in race that have commanded the nation’s attention; the trial of Arbery’s killing and another soon to conclude involving Kyle Rittenhouse, who is on trial for the fatal shootings of two men and injuring of another during a Black Lives Matter protest last year. 

Rittenhouse, who 17 years old at the time, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin in illegal possession with an assault rifle specifically to attend the BLM protests before the shootings. On Wednesday, Rittenhouse tearfully recalled the night he fatally shot the protesters — something critics have deemed performative. The teen’s mother, who appeared for an interview on Fox News Thursday night, said he went to Kenosha in an attempt to “help people.”

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