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Defense Attorney in Arbury trial ask Judges not to allow “Black pastors” in court


We have all seen the ugly depictions of the old south – where Black people had no rights and were mistreated because of the color of their skin. Some have even lived through this ugly history and can vividly recall how those times made them feel. 

This depiction took on its own bizarre reality in a Brunswick courtroom last week when one of the defense attorneys in the Ahmaud Arbury murder trial made an offensive and racist request that caused many in our Cobb community and in the country to press pause and ask, “What in the world is going on in the Arbury trial?” Most were already concerned about the makeup of the jury, 11 Whites and 1 Black. Their concerns were heightened after hearing comments made by one of the defense attorneys in the trial which many are calling downright racist.

With a straight face and racism clearly in his heart and on his mind, Brunswick attorney Kevin Gough asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley not to allow Black pastors in court for the trial of the three white men, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan, accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, in their neighborhood.

Gough, who represents Bryan, the man who filmed Arbery’s death, was apparently not happy to see civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton sitting in the courtroom with the murdered man’s family Wednesday. Gough’s unhappiness took on a life of its own and prompted him to make several bigoted remarks directed at Black pastors. He called on presiding Judge Walmsley to ban Black pastors from the courtroom. Gough said, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.”

Gough was so concerned about Sharpton’s presence in court that he told the Judge that having “high profile members of the African American community” in the courtroom could pressure or intimidate the jury. Gough said Sharpton was attempting to intimidate the disproportionately white jury hearing the case. “Obviously, there’s only so many pastors they can have,” Gough said. “And if their pastor’s Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case.” 

Fortunately, the jury was not in the courtroom when Gough made his offensive remarks. Gough is part of the same defense team that struck nearly all of the potential black candidates from the juror list, leaving a single Black person to serve on the 12-member jury.

Referencing Sharpton being in the courtroom, the baffled Judge told Gough, “You weren’t even aware of it until later? I’m not sure what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, after holding a prayer vigil with Arbery’s parents on the courthouse steps, Sharpton issued a scathing rebuke of Gough, calling his remarks insensitive to Arbery’s family who had invited Sharpton to sit in on the trial. Sharpton said in a statement, “I respect the defense attorney doing his job, but this is beyond defending your client, it is insulting the family of the victim.” In a show of force, Sharpton later called for clergy members of all faiths to join him outside the courthouse next Thursday. 

Gough was in a boat out to sea all alone as Defendant Travis McMichael’s attorney, Jason Sheffield, distanced himself from his remarks. He called them “asinine and ridiculous,” and told the judge he didn’t notice any distractions caused by Sharpton, who sat in the back row of the courtroom gallery, wearing a mask. During the lunch break, Sheffield went on to say, “We feel anyone is welcome to come show their support. Come one, come all.” 

After his outburst against Black pastors, Gough came back to the trail the next day with a better attitude and toned-down racist rhetoric. He addressed the court before testimony continued Friday, saying “My apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended.”

Many we spoke with in the communities of Cobb were offended. We also assume that many conscientious people around the country and the world were also offended by Gough’s racist remarks. Some we spoke to said that they were left disheartened because the defense attorney felt comfortable uttering those words at this time in our country where people are trying to heal racial issues that divide us. Others say Gough’s comments were like ripping the scab off a wound that has not yet healed. They say his comments revealed thewhite privilege that he carries around like a Gold Card that should be accepted by all and never challenged. Gough quickly found out that the Judge was not willing to accept his bigoted comments. People we spoke to questioned why Gough did not ask for White pastors to be banned from the court and say this speaks to what is in his heart…racism. They also said Gough’s apology was not sincere as the words he used were ‘if he offended,’ clearly not understanding or accepting the fact that he did offend many.

The McMichaels and Bryan, who are white, are on trial at the Glynn County Courthouse. They are contesting the charges, contending they were making a valid citizen’s arrest while chasing Arbery, a Black man, through their neighborhood. The chase ended with Travis McMichael using his shotgun to kill unarmed Arbery as they tussled over the weapon. 

As for testimony in the trial, the week included one of the officers who patrolled the Satilla Shores neighborhood, near Brunswick where Arbery was killed. He said he told Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael that Arbery wasn’t suspected of taking anything from a nearby home under construction. Officer Robert Rash testified that Arbery, 25, had been spotted entering the vacant property on multiple occasions, however, he said that he never “deputized” McMichael or told him to detain anyone. He also said that if he had been able to locate Arbery, he would have simply told him to stay off the property. 

Prior to the trial starting, Prosecutors had objected to the final jury of 11 whites and one Black juror. The judge agreed there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” in the exclusion of Black potential jurors but said Georgia law limited his authority to intervene. 

Gough’s outburst reminds us that race does matter and will always matter when people feel comfortable making stupid, insensitive, and bigoted comments out loud. 

Trial resumes on Monday.


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