A defense attorney representing one of the three men on trial for killing Ahmaud Arbery on a Georgia road in 2020 demanded on Thursday that the Rev. Al Sharpton be removed from the courtroom, saying, “We don’t want any more Black pastors in here.”
At the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, attorney Kevin Gough tried to argue that the civil rights activist’s presence was intimidating the jury, which is made up of 11 white people and one Black person. Sharpton said he came to Brunswick on Wednesday to provide support for the Arbery family during the trial, which is open to the public.
“My concern is that it’s one thing for the family to be present. It’s another thing to ask for the lawyers to be present. But if we’re going to … bring high-profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating,” Gough said. “And it’s an attempt to pressure – could be consciously or unconsciously – an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.”
The attorney then appeared to argue that people should not have multiple pastors, requesting that the court no longer allow Black pastors to watch the trial.
“To my knowledge, Rev. Al Sharpton has no church in Glynn County, never has. … So we have all kinds of people. We have school board members, we have county commissioners, we have all kinds of pastors in this town, over 100,” Gough said. “And the idea that we’re going to be serially bringing these people in to sit with the victim’s family, one after another. Obviously, there’s only so many pastors they can have, and if 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 the jury in this case.” (Jesse Jackson has not been in the courtroom, according to TMZ.)
The defense lawyer then began making a bizarre comparison between the presence of Black pastors and a scenario in which “people dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks” would sit in the courtroom. It should be noted that, unlike Gough’s reference, Black pastors aren’t people cosplaying as Black pastors. They are actually Black pastors.
Judge Timothy Walmsley cut off Gough while he was making the Colonel Sanders reference, saying he believed Sharpton’s presence had been fine because the reverend had not been a disruption or distraction to the jury or the courtroom.
“The fact that nobody else even noticed that he was in here means that everybody complied with this court’s rulings on sitting in this courtroom and listening to the evidence,” Walmsley said. “I don’t hear a motion, and I will tell you this: I’m not going to start blanketly excluding members of the public from this courtroom.”
Sharpton joined the Arbery family in front of the courthouse on Wednesday to pray for fairness and justice in the case, saying that the men on trial Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan – were fueled by racism when they chased Arbery as he ran along a road and then killed him. On Thursday, Sharpton told TMZ that Gough’s behavior is “an arrogant display of insensitivity” and that he would “make it my business to come again.”
“You are going to be sitting there with three men that murdered the mother and father’s child, and the families of those – three that have been indicted for murder – and now tell [Arbery’s family] they can’t have the ministers of their choice to sit there and console them while they’re sitting there looking at who murdered their son, and with their families?” Sharpton said. “So now you not only have taken their son, you want to take those of us that will come and console them.”
“The parents said publicly they invited me to come. … I’ve been with them from the beginning. They have the right to be consoled by anyone,” he added. “We were not being disruptive, as the judge said, but the audacity, the arrogance to say that ‘Not only are you going to have to look at your son’s killers every day and their families, we’re going to choose who can come and console you in the courtroom.’ It’s like pouring salt in the wound.”
Gregory McMichael, his son Travis and Bryan, a neighbor, are on trial for murder in their pursuit and fatal shooting of 25-year-old Arbery last year while he was out for a run on Feb. 23, 2020, in Brunswick. Arbery’s death caused national outrage and contributed to the 2020 protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
The McMichaels do not contest that they shot Arbery, but they claim self-defense. Prosecutors argue the killing was racially motivated, describing how the men chased, “trapped” and then killed Arbery.
Lee Merritt, the Arbery family’s attorney, described to theGrio the racism that has already been occurring in the murder trial.
“Well, racism played a factor in 11 of the 12 Black candidates to be a part of this jury being struck,” he said. “So yeah, racism reared its ugly head already in the process.”