You would think someone working to convince a jury his client didn’t help form a white supremacist mob and murder a Black man would avoid trying to outright ban Black people from the trial. You would think the last person that attorney would try to ban would be a noted civil rights leader and minister like Al Sharpton. You would think that, but you’d be wrong. “We don’t want any more Black pastors in here,” attorney Kevin Gough actually said in court on Thursday. He spoke as if he were making some kind of compromise after granting himself the power to allow Sharpton’s presence.
Gough represents William “Roddie” Bryan, who—along with former cop Gregory McMichael and his son Travis—are accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020 after spotting him running near the site of a home under construction in Brunswick, Georgia. The case, in which a prosecutor is indicted for alleged misconduct, has prompted so much outrage in Georgia and beyond that although some 1,000 potential jurors were summoned, attorneys had a hard time seating 12 people who didn’t openly communicate a bias during voir dire. Only one of them is Black, and social media users have frequently spread a running-while-Black hashtag denoting the popular belief that Arbery was only targeted because he was a Black man. This is the context in which Gough felt it appropriate to target Sharpton.
The white attorney said:
"My understanding while I was cross-examining investigator (Stephan) Lowry yesterday is that the right Reverend Al Sharpton managed to find his way into the back of the courtroom. I'm guessing he was somehow there at the invitation of the victim's family in this case, and I have nothing personally against Mr. Sharpton. My concern is that it's one thing for the family to be present, it's another thing to ask for the lawyers to be present, but if we're going to start a precedent starting yesterday, where we're going to bring high-profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that's intimidating, and it’s an attempt to pressure—could be consciously or unconsciously—an attempt to pressure or influence the jury. To my knowledge, Reverend Al Sharpton has no church in Glynn County, never has.”
Gough went on to say that there are “only so many pastors” the Arbery family can have. “And in the fact that their pastor is Al Sharpton right now that's fine, but then that's it,” he added. “We don't want any more Black pastors coming in here or other, Jesse Jackson whoever was in here earlier this week sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence the jury in this case."
His voice oozed with so much privilege even the white judge appeared offended, and not for the first time. Judge Timothy Walmsley called another defense attorney in the case “rude” on Tuesday. In Gough’s instance, Walmsley offered these words: “I don’t hear a motion, and I will tell you this, I am not going to blanketly [sic] exclude members of the public from this courtroom.”
Sharpton responded in an interview with TMZ: “I think it is an arrogant display of insensitivity.”