Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton were doing the right thing when attending the Ahmaud Arbery trial. They demonstrated the solidarity that the Black community has with each other when one of us appears to be lynched. Lynching has reverberations. Each of us, every Black person, is repulsed and dismayed when we learn that armed white men, using the pretense of “citizen’s arrest,” can kill any of us. What is a citizen’s arrest, anyway? Is it simply a license to kill?
Kevin Gough, the attorney “defending” William “Roddie” Bryant, the man who both took the video of the massacre and participated in it, asked the judge, each day, to bar Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom. How absurd! He says Rev. Jackson’s presence might influence the nearly all-white jury, and I suspect his objections might lay the groundwork for an appeal now that the devilish white men have been found guilty of murder.
Gough’s racism and ignorance were a constant presence in this trial. He said he didn’t want more Black pastors in the courtroom after Rev. Sharpton sat with the Arbery family. He asked the stupid question, “How many pastors does the Arbery family have?” He had the nerve, though out of the jury’s hearing, to ask if Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, also a pastor, will be next in the courtroom. What if he was?
What Gough does not understand are the many ways that racism connects Black people. In the book “Lynching and Spectacle,” Amy Louise Wood writes, “The news of lynching shook [author Richard] Wright to his core. Despite, or even because of, its relative rarity, lynching held a singular psychological force, generating a level of fear and horror that overwhelmed all other forms of violence. Even one lynching reverberated, traveling with sinister force, down city streets, and through rural farms, across roads and rivers.” Any of us could be followed and shot on any given day.
We have no shield. We can be unarmed and running. In bed and sleeping (ask Breonna Taylor) or simply walking down the street. And white folks see a threat because racism is baked in the cake we call America. When we watch the massacre of Ahmaud Arbery, we see ourselves, our sons, our daughters, our mothers. That connects us. That’s why more than one hundred pastors rallied with Rev. Sharpton outside the Brunswick courthouse in solidarity. I want Revs. Jackson, Sharpton, William Barber, Freddy Haynes and so many others rally at every massacre. Cause it’s personal. How dare this high-handed man, the offense attorney, question anybody’s religion, pastoral relationships, community connections, or anything else?
Gough will go down in the racist’s hall of fame, but he is not the only one. All these “stand your ground” laws are an absurd attempt to allow white people to shoot Black people with impunity. Southern state legislatures empower white people to embrace their racism with firearms, whether they are police officers or ordinary citizens. It is frightening to think that we live in a world where white fear, real or imagined, justifies a Black massacre.
On the witness stand, one of the murderers admitted that Ahmaud did not say a word to him, did not do a darn thing but try to get away from him. He shot him anyway! So some random white person follows a Black man and attacks him because he is “scared.” He should have kept his scared self in his house and called the police. But no, he was a white man with privilege, power and a weapon. Why should he call law enforcement when he could enforce the law himself?
So how many pastors does the Arbery family have? As many as they want. Black folks around the nation and the world prayed for a just result in this trial. We also prayed for a judicial ruling that the massacre of Black people is unacceptable. We are continuing to pray for an examination of this nonsense called “citizen’s arrest.” And we are praying for our leaders, our pastors, our brothers to keep the faith and keep representing.
Kevin Gough does not “get” the Black community, and he doesn’t have to. But what he needs to know, when he thundered about Black pastors, is that all of us, Black people, are connected. How many pastors do I have? As many as will claim me. Hundreds of Black pastors claimed the Arbery family because they relate to their pain. Whether you are a pastor or not, you should claim them, too.
Malveaux is an economist, author and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.