Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton did the right thing when attending the Ahmaud Arbery trial. They demonstrated the Black community’s solidarity when one of us is lynched.

Lynching has reverberations. Each of us, every Black person, is repulsed and dismayed when we learn that armed white men, using the pretense of “citizen’s arrest,” can kill any of us. What is a citizen’s arrest, anyway? Is it simply a license to kill?

Kevin Gough, the attorney “defending” William “Roddie” Bryant, the man who both took a video of the massacre and participated in it, asked the judge, each day, to bar Jackson from the courtroom. How absurd! He said Jackson’s presence might influence the nearly all-white jury. 

Gough’s racism and ignorance were a constant presence in the trial. He said he didn’t want more Black pastors in the courtroom after Sharpton sat with the Arbery family. 

“How many pastors does the Arbery family have?” he asked.

Gough does not understand the many ways that racism connects Black people. In the book “Lynching and Spectacle” (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), Amy Louise Wood writes, “Despite, or even because of, its relative rarity, lynching held a singular psychological force, generating a level of fear and horror that overwhelmed all other forms of violence. Even one lynching reverberated, traveling with sinister force, down city streets, and through rural farms, across roads and rivers.”

Any of us could be followed and shot on any given day. We have no shield. We can be unarmed and running. In bed and sleeping like the late Breonna Taylor, or simply walking down the street.

And some white folks see a threat because racism is baked in the cake we call America. When we watched the massacre of Arbery, we see ourselves, our sons, our daughters, our mothers. That connects us. 

All “Stand Your Ground” laws are an absurd attempt to allow white people to shoot Black people with impunity. Many state legislatures empower white people to embrace their racism with firearms, whether police officers or ordinary citizens. It is frightening to think that we live in a world where white fear, real or imagined, justifies a Black massacre.

On the witness stand, one of the convicted murderers admitted that Ahmaud did not say a word to him, did not do a darn thing but try to get away from him. He shot him anyway!

So, some random white person follows a Black man and attacks him because he is “scared.” He should have kept his scared self in his house and called the police. But no, he was a white man with privilege, power, and a weapon. Why should he call law enforcement when he could enforce the law himself?

So how many pastors does the Arbery family have? As many as they want. Black folks around the nation and the world are praying for a just result in this trial. We are praying for a judicial ruling that the massacre of Black people is unacceptable. We are praying for an examination of this nonsense called “citizen’s arrest.” And we are praying for our leaders, our pastors, our brothers to keep the faith and keep representing.

Gough does not “get” the Black community, and he doesn’t have to. But what he needs to know, when he thundered about Black pastors, is that all of us, Black people, are connected.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State University-L.A.

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