POLICING THE USA

Black pastors helped guide this nation's moral conscience. We shouldn't keep them out of court.

Ben Crump
Opinion contributor

The Black church in America has played an outsized role in the Black American experience – for the good. For a people whose American story began with the experience of being enslaved and whose journey since then has been marked by trauma and the psychic scarring of systemic racism, the Black church has been a source of power, a balm and a force for positive change.

So it was shocking, though not surprising, when the attorney for one of the men accused of hunting down and killing Ahmaud Arbery objected to Black pastors coming to Brunswick, Georgia, to stand in prayerful solidarity with the Arbery family during the trial.

Kevin Gough, an attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, told the judge that he doesn't "want any more Black pastors coming in here” after the Rev. Al Sharpton led a prayer vigil with the Arbery family outside and then sat with them in court. 

Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Arbery's family in the courtroom, which sparked a motion for mistrial.

You’ll remember that Bryan is charged with felony murder for attempting to confine and detain Arbery multiple times using his vehicle, according to warrants.

Standing up to injustice

Arbery's death has been compared with a modern-day lynching – a Black man is suspected of a crime without evidence and is then summarily executed by a white mob without a trial or any other form of due process guaranteed under our Constitution.

Paulose:Behavior of attorney representing man accused of killing Arbery shows systemic racism in court

Lynchings are an inescapable part of our history – nearly 3,500 Black people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 according to estimates from the NAACP. Black pastors played a critical role in denouncing them, calling white pastors to account as Christians and serving as the nation’s conscience

Many paid a steep price for their advocacy, including Florida pastor I.T. Burgess, who was hanged in 1894 and a Paris, Texas, pastor, Rev. King, who was beaten and driven out of town for raising his voice.

Like that King, the famous Black pastor by the same last name, Martin Luther King, Jr., suffered threats and persecution for raising the nation’s awareness about racial injustices – and paid the ultimate price for his advocacy.

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Besides standing up against injustice, the Black church historically has given Black Americans a sense of community, the opportunity for leadership and respect and comfort in the midst of daily, unrelenting threats, violence and other overt expressions of deep, systemic racism. In other words, Black pastors have been a balm in the face of horrific pain.

A mural of Ahmaud Arbery is on display in Brunswick, Ga., where the 25-year-old man was shot and killed in February of 2020. It was painted by Miami artist Marvin Weeks.

The parents of Ahmaud Arbery suffered the unspeakable loss of their son, who was hunted down, cornered and shot for being a Black man jogging in a white neighborhood. This is every Black parent’s worst nightmare and constant worry. They deserve the balm that Black pastors can provide. One hundred or even 1,000 would not be too much.

Ben Crump is a civil rights attorney and founder of the national law firm Ben Crump Law. He represents Ahmaud Arbery's family.