The Columbus Dispatch

Call to remove Black pastors angers many

Perceived as another roadblock in healing racial division

- Jeffrey Collins and Jay Reeves

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Race was always going to be at the forefront of the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-yearold Black man, in a coastal Georgia neighborho­od.

But a defense attorney’s quickly rejected call to kick out Black pastors, including Jesse Jackson, from the Glynn County courtroom intensified frustratio­ns and added fresh agony to a lingering wound that many in the community had hoped the trial could start healing.

About a mile from the courthouse in the majority Black city of Brunswick, Tony Bryant has been following the proceeding­s.

Sitting outside the front door of his apartment with peeling teal paint and a view of cranes at the state of Georgia’s port along the East River, he said the way race has seeped into the trial has been discouragi­ng but not surprising – from seating an almost all-white jury when 27% of Glynn County’s 85,000 people are Black to trying to kick out Jackson and other pastors.

“Three white men killed a Black guy. Come on, man. Who did they think was going to be there to support his family?” Bryant said.

The request was especially offensive because pastors play an important role in comforting people who are hurting and demanding justice, said John Perry, a pastor and the former leader of Brunswick’s chapter of the NAACP.

“I believe we’re seeing overwhelmi­ng evidence that points us toward guilt, and so there’s been an attempt to take the focus off of the evidence,” Perry said.

After Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others sat with Arbery’s family in court, defense attorney Kevin Gough asked the judge to kick out the pastors, saying civil rights icons could influence the jury.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case,” Gough said last week. The attorneys for the other two men on trial did not join Gough.

Sharpton said he started gathering dozens of Black pastors to pray outside the courthouse Nov. 11 with lawyers representi­ng Arbery’s family.

“They tried to ban one. We’re coming back with a hundred,” Sharpton said.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley called the request against the Black pastors “reprehensi­ble” because in America trials and courtrooms are open for all outside of pandemic concerns, and the pastors had followed those rules.

That opinion was echoed throughout Brunswick, from groups of white and Black pastors gathering outside the courthouse each day to shop owners a few blocks away, where a glance to the left sees dozens of expensive boats docked.

Melissa Bagby winced when a reporter asked her about the attorney’s request Tuesday.

“That was disgusting,” she said behind the counter of The Market, a store full of knickknack­s, whimsical signs and a cat named Sasha who leads customers to her food bowl.

Arbery “wasn’t armed and wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Bagby said. “I think they’re trying to do whatever they can.”

The city of 15,000, which is the gateway to idyllic spots along the coast and surrounded by a county where a significant majority of people are white, has talked and prayed its way through the anger after the men weren’t charged for more than two months.

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