100+ faith leaders plan to gather in Brunswick in support of Ahmaud Arbery’s family

Coordination center in Brunswick to serve as central location for demonstrations amid trial

Black and white pastors have set up a tent and are asking for prayers during the trial over the death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. A call by a defense attorney to kick Black pastors out of the courtroom angered the community. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins) (Jeffrey Collins, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. – Glynn County is preparing for more demonstrators as the trial moves along for the three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

Glynn Unified Command, which was established in September as a means to provide information surrounding the trial to the public, is opening what it says it a coordination center in Brunswick. It’s intended to act as a central location for demonstrators to meet. The announcement was made during a meeting Wednesday evening.

The center will be located at the Rise Risley Community Center, which is right around the corner from the Glynn County Courthouse. It will be open Monday through Friday from noon to 7 p.m.

On Thursday, a prayer rally is scheduled to take place outside the courthouse, and during the afternoon -- demonstrators plan to march through Brunswick.

More than 100 faith leaders from across the country plan to meet in support of Arbery’s family.

“To simply provide spiritual support,” said the Rev. Ron Sailor, with the National Action Network. “That’s what we’re here for. No more, no less. To support this family.”

“I’m grateful,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother. “My family and I are very grateful that these pastors are coming in to offer support because support is what we need.”

Organizers want the coordination center to be a safe place for community members and visitors to meet and collaborate with other groups and law enforcement.

“We think as the trial proceeds, it gets closer to verdict time, we plan on seeing a little bit more activity,” said Capt. Jeremiah Bergquist with Glynn Unified Command.

He stressed that there was “no intel that any of the gatherings will be violent.”

Glynn Unified Command said there will be a law enforcement presence, but it’s hoping to keep that footprint minimal. Organizers say the goal is to ensure that everyone can come out and make their voices heard in a peaceful manner.

Man who fatally shot Arbery takes stand

The man who fatally shot Arbery on Wednesday testified Arbery attacked him and grabbed his shotgun after he and two other white men pursued the 25-year-old Black man in their Georgia neighborhood.

RELATED: Man who shot Arbery testifies: ‘He had my gun. He struck me’

Travis McMichael’s testimony came as defense attorneys in the murder trial for the three white men opened their case by building on arguments that their clients were lawfully trying to stop burglaries in their neighborhood.

McMichael said he followed Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, after his father came into their home in “almost a frantic state” and told him to “get your gun.” He said he believed Arbery was the same man he’d seen “creeping” outside a nearby unfinished house and that he might have broken in there.

Attorney Gene Nichols, not affiliated with the case, said that without McMichael’s testimony, the jury would only hear the prosecutors describe why he shot Arbery.

He says the biggest challenge for McMichael and his father, Gregory, is now the viral cellphone video of the shooting.

“The McMichaels are going to have an incredibly difficult time explaining away that video and how far they went in order to allegedly trying to stop somebody, who was allegedly committing a crime,” Nichols said.

Travis McMichael said security cameras recorded Arbery several times before, and that he had no choice but to fire in self defense because Arbery charged at him.

The attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan tried to separate his client from the McMichaels, saying that Bryan never grabbed his own gun when he jumped in his truck and ultimately recorded that video of the McMichaels’ encounter with Arbery and that Bryan was the one who openly shared his video of Arbery’s death with police on the scene.

Nichols says he expects that to be brought up again.

“Watch for closing arguments, because if we think that he threw the McMichaels under the bus in opening statements, the bus is going to back over them five times in closing,” Nichols said. “He will absolutely point blank blame them and express to the jury we would not be here but not for my client.”

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.