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Clergy mount vigil near US court in murder trial

12 November 2021

Three men are being tried in the US for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery


Worshippers and clergy gather outside the Glynn County Courthouse, last month, during the jury-selection period

Worshippers and clergy gather outside the Glynn County Courthouse, last month, during the jury-selection period

CLERGY are a daily presence outside the Glynn County courthouse, Georgia, in the United States, where three men are being tried for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, aged 25.

Mr Arbery was shot in broad daylight while jogging in Brunswick on 23 February last year (Comment, 15 May 2020; News, 3 July 2020). His attackers were a father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased him in a pick-up truck and shot him, claiming that they were carrying out a citizen’s arrest on him for a suspected burglary. A neighbour, William Bryan, recorded the attack, joined in the chase, and ran Arbery down with his truck.

The men, who claim that their citizen’s arrest turned into self-defence, were not arrested until 7 May, when Mr Bryan’s video came to light. Jury selection for the case has been criticised. Only one Black jury member was appointed. Mr Arbery’s father, Marcus, has described the killing as a lynching.

The Bishop of Georgia, the Rt Revd Frank Logue, said that watching the video had been “unspeakably hard. I lament that persons of colour remain at greater risk than I will ever know. I cannot imagine being a parent, relative, or friend having to see Ahmaud’s death,” he said. “ But without the video we would not have arrived at this trial, where the evidence will have its days in court.”

The eyes of the nation were watching the trial, he told the diocesan convention on Friday: Mr Arbery’s killing had been linked with the deaths of Breanna Taylor — shot in her Louisville home in March 2020 by a police officer charged only with “wanton endangerment” — and George Floyd, murdered in plain sight by a police officer on 25 May that year (News, 1 June 2020).

Protests had followed, as “many called for a racial reckoning in response to ongoing anti-Black violence, while others said Ahmaud’s death had nothing to do with his being Black,” he said. “In fact, the main issue we face in addressing racism in our midst is that we can’t even agree on what racism is when we see it.”

In the year and more since Mr Arbery’s murder, 75 clergy from all denominations have come together as Glynn Clergy for Equity to call for peace and unity, and to stand as a witness against racism. The Episcopal Church nationally and the diocese of Georgia have contributed funding.

The Revd Willetta McGowen, a deacon at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, told the Episcopal News Service that the past year had been a “roller-coaster” for Mr Arbery’s family. She described herself as “a Black woman, and I have a 26-year-old grandson. And I remember, when he lived here, he would run in his neighbourhood” and could easily have met the same fate.

“I want justice for Ahmaud, and I want justice for anyone who has gone before him,” she said. “And of course, this is going to happen in another community, so we need to be able to reach out to that community as well and offer our support.”

She expressed her surprise at the disconnect that she heard in white perceptions of everyday Black experiences. “They’re really not aware of how painful it is to be Black in America. They just really don’t understand. We call it ‘living in a bubble’.” She said that the racial divide was “particularly stark in Glynn County’s churches, which are mostly single-race congregations”.

The Revd Dr Wayne Cope, Rector of St Athanasius’s Episcopal Church, said: “What happened to Ahmaud was not a blip on the radar.” Although not always violent or deadly, instances of racial injustice were “happening to people on a daily basis”.

The clergy group, which is interfaith, turns out daily in threes or fours to support Mr Arbery’s family, talk with demonstrators, and offer prayers for the community.

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