Dozens of local clergy stood in solidarity and prayer at the Glynn County Courthouse Tuesday morning to rebuke defense lawyer Kevin Gough and to say his statements in court about Black ministers attending the Ahmaud Arbery trial do not represent the local community.
About 16 of the ministers first gathered in a circle to pray before standing on the courthouse steps to address Gough’s statements that well known black ministers’ Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson presence in court could influence the jury. Gough represents William “Roddie” Bryan, one of three White men charged with murder in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in a confrontation in the Satilla Shores where Bryan, former district attorney’s investigator Greg McMichael, and his adult son Travis McMichael lived.
After their prayer the Rev. John Perry II addressed Gough’s remarks of Thursday, the first full week of testimony in the trial, in which Gough told the court “We don’t need any more Black preachers” in court. Sharpton was in court that day and his fellow civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended Monday morning.
“We stood dumbfounded and shocked at the statements he was allowed to make,’’ the pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist told reporters.
He called Gough’s remarks not only racial, “but an attack against the faith community.”
Perry said later that Gough’s statements cannot be allowed to drive a wedge between pastors and the courts.
The role of pastors is not just to comfort those who are hurting, Perry said, “but also to confront the system when it does not deliver justice.”
He also said those chosen to for the “priesthood” had been “demonically attacked by a defense attorney.”
Tuesday’s news conference and prayer session were the first in a series of events in the wake of Gough’s remarks.
Clergy will also gather at the courthouse at 8 a.m. Wednesday for a second prayer meeting and a number of pastors and others are expected to accept Sharpton’s call for them to join him Thursday morning when he returns to court.
That gathering of pastors will be sandwiched between a welcoming breakfast for the visiting clergy and a noon lunch for anyone who wants to come, said attorney Ben Hartman.
Hartman said the meals provided by local restaurants will be a display of “grace and hospitality for those coming Thursday that the words in the courtroom don’t reflect the feelings of the community.”
The Rev. Craig Campbell, senior pastor at Zion Baptist Church, said Tuesday, “We will not be distracted by what was said and uttered from the mouth of defense attorney Kevin Gough.”
“We refuse, and here me good, to allow one man to define us and our community,’’ he said.
The Rev. Mark Baker, pastor of Greater Works Ministry, led a prayer to end the news conference in which he thanked God for the leaders who had gathered. It was Baker who “pulled it together,’’ Perry said of the Tuesday gathering.
Perry said normally Gough’s remarks wouldn’t have gotten so much attention but for the national and international coverage.
“On a local level, we can say they’re the antics of Kevin Gough,’’ but this time it wasn’t just him talking to a judge, Perry said.
He questioned the rights of those in the “priesthood in the halls of justice,’’ Perry said.
Baker said if local faith leaders had not responded, “It’ll leave an impression we accept those types of comments.”
“We like unity. We like peace. We don’t like confusion,’’ Baker said.
Rabbi Rachael Bregman, who has joined other local clergy on the courthouse grounds during the trial, said the Tuesday meeting sends a strong message.
“I think it’s really powerful to hear the voices of our Black pastors and to see our clergy in unity,’’ she said.
The clergy will not be distracted from its “task of helping this community (and the Arbery family) move through the challenges of this moment.”
There were a number of White pastors in the opening prayer and on the courthouse steps, and the number grew as the event continued.
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