As Ahmaud Arbery's trial approaches, a community is on edge

BRUNSWICK, Georgia – As jury selection in the trial of the three men charged with murder Ahmaud Arbery began last week, a group of cler...

BRUNSWICK, Georgia – As jury selection in the trial of the three men charged with murder Ahmaud Arbery began last week, a group of clergy gathered outside the Glynn County Courthouse. They handed out rainbow stickers that read, “Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly… together. They prayed for Mr. Arbery’s family, for the families of the accused and for their community.

“People are determined to stay together while feeling separate,” said Rachael Bregman, rabbi of Beth Tefilloh Temple in Brunswick. “We could completely collapse during this trial and after, but we won’t. “

City officials in Brunswick, a town of 16,000 people between Savannah and Jacksonville on Georgia’s south coast, are projecting optimism, but residents are worried as the trial approaches. Mr. Arbery, the 25-year-old man who was chased in a Brunswick suburb and shot at point blank range, was black; his accused killers are white. The case, which sparked nationwide protests following the publication of a graphic video of last year’s murder, has drawn attention to racial division in a community that has long cherished its image as “Model city of the South”.

Community leaders urge activists from outside who should meet in Brunswick to protest peacefully. Some parents in the area, concerned about unrest if the accused killers are acquitted, are already talking about keeping their children home from school when the verdict comes down.

“I would like this city to come together to help me find justice for mine if this happens to me, so there is unity in there and there are a lot of white people who are with us in there” said Larry E. Rogers, a local. musician who is black. Despite this, he fears the defendants are trying to tarnish Mr. Arbery’s character. “I’m afraid we lose.”

In the nearly two years since Mr. Arbery’s murder, much of the community has focused on issues of racial inequality, struggling with widespread frustrations among black residents who were largely remained unanswered in recent years.

There have also been signs of change: Glynn County has appointed its first black police chief. Former District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who has been widely criticized for his handling of Mr Arbery’s murder, has been dismissed from his post and then charged in connection with the case.

City leaders voted to remove a marble monument to a Confederate soldier that had stood in a public square since 1902. Community events focused on running are now held regularly.

“Race and racism are part of an active conversation here now, whereas before it was an uncomfortable tension,” said Bobby Henderson, co-founder of A Better Glynn, a popular group formed last year in response to the murder of Mr. Arbery. .

Brunswick is 55% black and 40% white, although Glynn County, from which the jury for the murder trial will be drawn, is nearly 70% white. The city’s neighborhoods, lined with colonial-style houses, are widely separated by race.

Close to Brunswick are four barrier islands known as the Golden Isles, a popular tourist destination that welcomed over two million visitors in 2017. The islands are home to some of the richest people in the country.

Half a century ago, Brunswick gained national attention for its constant and peaceful efforts at racial integration. Now Mr. Arbery’s death, which some black residents have described as a lynching, has rekindled memories of a time when they thought the city had passed.

“This incident forced me to look at what happened to him, to say, ‘So it’s still okay?’ Said Abra Lattany-Reed, a Black Methodist pastor who grew up in Brunswick. “Is this action still acceptable in 2020?” “

Although many white residents and tourists alike view the area with affection for its open saltwater marshes, beaches, and estates framed by woven oak trees, for black residents this beauty is linked to the pain of knowing that the luxurious homes are built on old plantations where their ancestors were slaves.

“The descendants of slaves continue to cook, clean, sweep and do a lot of manual labor, and they haven’t really had the opportunity to do so,” Ms. Lattany-Reed said. “It only perpetuates this pain for them when they see this Ahmaud video.”

Mr. Henderson, who is black, was born and raised in Brunswick. He said there were places in Glynn County where blacks had long felt unwelcome, including the neighborhood where Mr. Arbery was killed.

“There were places you could go and places you couldn’t go,” he said. “Ahmaud, when he went to Satilla Shores, he questioned a long-standing tradition that black people did not go to this neighborhood. “

Taylor Ritz, who ran for county commissioner in 2020, said while there has been some progress since Mr Arbery’s death, the feeling that some white residents did not want to talk about the trial was inevitable.

“There is a division where some whites are horrified and want to work on dismantling the systematic problems that led to this, but others are not,” she said.

Ms. Ritz, who is white, moved from New York to Brunswick when she was 15. She said she was aware of the racial divisions in the community even as a teenager. “Moving to Brunswick was a real culture shock,” she said. “Our classes were basically separate.”

For some white residents, Mr. Arbery’s death was the first time they had been forced to fight these divisions.

“A lot of people feel comfortable taking things as they are,” said Samantha Gilder, a legal secretary from Brunswick, who is white. “But racism here came to the fore last year for me and for a lot of people. It was a moment to draw the curtains for me.

The trial of Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, all of whom have been charged with murder, is now viewed by many in Glynn County as a test of the region, its values ​​and how from which he perceives his black citizens. .

“The humanity of this community is on trial, the justice system is on trial and the conscience of this community is open to the world,” said Ms. Lattany-Reed.

Jury selection has been ongoing since October 18, but even before the trial officially begins, skepticism of the local court system is evident. This was exacerbated more recently after officials left information about Mr Arbery’s mental health on the court system’s website, even after the judge banned those details of the trial.

Court officials said it was an accident, but for some black residents who feared the trial would be sabotaged by people supporting the former district attorney, the episode seemed to be the latest example. white people in power trying to tarnish Mr. Arbery’s reputation. character.

“I find it hard to believe this link was made available in error,” said Cedric Z. King, a local businessman and community organizer who is black. “We have had thousands and thousands of Superior Court cases submitted to us and it has never happened. Why the hell is this happening now? “

Still, King and other community leaders are hopeful that justice will be served.

“No matter what happens, we’ll be there, shoulder to shoulder, and we’ll continue,” Rabbi Bregman said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: As Ahmaud Arbery's trial approaches, a community is on edge
As Ahmaud Arbery's trial approaches, a community is on edge
Newsrust - US Top News
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