When the video of Ahmaud Arbery running for his life emerged in the spring of 2020, it ignited a firestorm of pain and outrage. The nation watched in horror as the 25-year-old Brunswick man desperately tried to elude a truck driven by Travis and Greg McMichael, a son and his father, as they pursued Arbery through the streets of Satilla Shores.
The end, of course, is all too familiar. After being hemmed in by the McMichaels, Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery with a shotgun. Greg McMichael looked on from the bed of the pickup truck, another firearm fixed on Arbery.
There was an unsettling span of time between the encounter in February and the McMichaels’ arrest in May, which came only 48 hours after the video was shared online and the case handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In addition to the McMichaels, William “Roddie” Bryan, a man also engaged in the chase and who recorded his lethal conclusion, was also arrested.
All three were charged with murder and federal hate crimes. The McMichaels and Bryan were accused of instigating the deadly confrontation because Arbery, who was Black, and was seen jogging in their predominantly White neighborhood. According to the prosecution, that was all the motivation they needed.
In addition to the murder and hate crimes charges, a number of officials were also implicated in trying to cover up the crime due to the McMichaels’ connection to the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement.
Over the year that followed, rallies were held and trials conducted. The community found itself at the center of an international spotlight, amidst a number of other allegedly racially-motivated killings around the country. In November of 2021, all three defendants, the McMichaels and Bryan, were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to life in state prison. In February, the trio was also found guilty of federal hate crimes.
On Monday, the sentencing hearing for that conviction will begin in Brunswick, harkening the end of a long and difficult time for Glynn County. But even within the shadow cast by Arbery’s murder, there has been light in the darkness.
A network of interdenominational clergymen and women have continuously led a charge for peace, pouring love and hope onto the wounds of the community. Throughout the proceedings the group has gathered around the courthouse to offer prayer and strength for those gathered there. And on Monday, they will take up their posts for a final time at the end of this senseless and sad journey.
They will host an open prayer vigil at 8 am Monday on the steps of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in downtown Brunswick. And they hope that the public will join them once again in an effort to promote healing.
For the Rev. Craig Campbell, the murder and subsequent trial has been a slow and painful march toward justice. But the pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Brunswick remains proud of the response the group has spearheaded.
“It’s been tough for our community. It’s been difficult emotionally and socially at times, but we wanted to offer prayers for all the families. That’s been our mission. We want to continue to demonstrate that and we believe that prayer works, so we’ve rallied around prayer. We will continue to do that even when the cameras leave,” he said.
“We want to continue to offer an olive branch and share the spirit of reconciliation with our community. We seek to break down divisions as God seeks to renew his people from him. “
That message of unity and equity is one local clergy sought to promote, even before Arbery’s murder. The work only became more critical in the aftermath, says Rabbi Rachael Bregman of Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick.
“Before the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, some of us had come together for lunches and equity training so that we’d be able to work within our community. We’ve been very involved publicly with the trial but our goal is to really transform the culture of our community so that a situation like Ahmaud Arbery’s death never, ever happens here again… or honestly anywhere else,” Bregman said.
Through the open prayer vigils the clergy, collectively known as Glynn Clergy for Equity, has continued to engage the public to promote peace and understanding. They will continue to share that mission through ongoing Equity Dinners, held monthly at local houses of worship, and other efforts geared at continuing the dialogue.
“The federal sentencing trial on Monday may be the end of a chapter, but it’s not the end of the story. Our community is still in pain from the events that happened. There’s still confusion and question marks and the desire to do better, to make a change. And that should be a slow, careful process. But it’s clear that work needs to continue by everyone in this community to make it more equitable,” Bregman said.
For Campbell and Bregman, that’s as much a spiritual charge as it is a social and moral obligation.
“Spirituality — it’s the exercise of engaging in and knowing that we’re all connected to something larger than ourselves. One way that we see spirituality manifest is in community. A community is larger than the individual members who make it up,” Bregman said.
“And any time we can come together as a community to engage in the efforts, it is spiritually good for us. It strengthens us and gives us a sense of wholeness, as well as a sense of being connected to each other.”