Rev. Al Sharpton hosts prayer vigil with Arbery's family

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Nov. 11—The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights leader, stood between the mother and father of Ahmaud Arbery on Wednesday and held their hands as he led a prayer vigil outside the courthouse where the three men charged in their son's shooting death are on trial.

Sharpton spoke alongside two attorneys working with the Arbery family, Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump.

His goal in attending the trial, which began Nov. 5 with opening statements, is to support Arbery's family and call attention to the case.

"Not only are the folks in Brunswick and Georgia watching are concerned," Sharpton said. "We are here from all over the country because not only are those three on trial but Georgia law is on trial."

Three White men are charged with murdering Arbery, who was Black. The charges against Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and the 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan include murder and aggravated assault.

The two McMichaels pursued Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, in a pickup truck because they claim they believed he'd been involved in a burglary at a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Arbery was on foot.

Bryan, a neighbor, joined the pursuit in his own pickup truck. He used his cellphone to record the fatal ending of the nearly five-minute chase. Travis McMichael shot and killed the unarmed Arbery as the two struggled for possession of McMichael's shotgun on a public street.

Racist presumptions played many roles in this case, Crump told the group gathered outside the courthouse Wednesday. Arbery's death and the events that followed are "eerily similar" to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, Crump said.

The result of the trial in Glynn County will reflect American progress on addressing racial injustices, Crump said.

Arbery's parents also spoke during the prayer vigil. Wanda Cooper, his mother, said she previously believed the day would never come when she'd see the men who murdered her son on trial. She said she's leaning on her faith in God throughout this difficult experience.

"God is good," she said softly. "I trust him."

The parents of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man who was killed in a South Carolina jail earlier this year when deputies deployed a stun gun repeatedly, attended the vigil. No charges have been brought against those responsible for his death, said his mother, Amy Sutherland.

"The murder's caught on tape," she said. "Nobody has gone to jail."

She grew emotional while her husband, Frank, spoke about their son's kind heart and about the mental health struggles he faced.

"We haven't received any justice," Frank Sutherland said. "The system thinks that they can throw a few dollars at you and you'll shut up and go away. We're not going anywhere."

Sharpton is founder of the National Action Network, which promotes a modern civil rights agenda. He said his organization worked to bring attention to the Martin case and is working now to put a spotlight on Arbery's shooting for the same purpose.

"We show up because that's what we need to do," he said.

The narratives in both cases have showcased the need for improved racial justice in America, Crump said.

"The first narrative was just like Trayvon — the young Black person was doing something bad and criminal and everything was justified without any evidence," he said. "... We can't have our young people in America be presumed guilty just because of the color of their skin. We continue to be unapologetic defenders of Black life, Black liberty and Black humanity, and we cannot be afraid to say Black lives matter."

Although Arbery was shot and killed outside the city limits, the city of Brunswick will be remembered for the verdict in this case, Crump said.

"We are fighting to have a better America, a more just America where Ahmaud Arbery and people who look like Ahmaud Arbery can run free and not be lynched jogging while Black," he said.