Dozens of members of the New Black Panther Party chanted slogans for racial justice and Black power, as well as ones critical of police, outside the Glynn County Courthouse Monday as the jury in the Ahmaud Arbery case heard closing arguments in a second floor courtroom.
Malik Shabazz, a lawyer and attorney general of the party, had harsh words for the justice system and what he heard in the courtroom.
“I could not tell from the defense arguments if this was 1921 or 2021,’’ he said during a news conference during the noon recess.
He decried the fact that defendants Travis McMichael, his father and former district attorney investigator Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan “were running around free” for a time while activists patrolled their neighborhood where Ahmaud Arbery was slain with a 12-gauge shotgun while jogging.
“It’s not over. The stakes are very high in this hour. The value of Black lives is hanging in the balance in this county, this state and this nation,’’ Shabazz said.
He disputed some of the arguments, called out the arguments and the crowd shouted out that all three men in turn were guilty. They also responded with “Guilty” when he brought up the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted last week of two counts of murder after he shot two White protesters to death who had threatened him and struck him in one case during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
He said the verdict could have consequences.
“Black people are not going to take a not guilty verdict lying down,’’ he said.
As he spoke a black human form lay in a black casket behind him. The figure and the casket were covered with the names of Black men and women who had been killed, including those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Emmett Till and Tamir Rice.
Its creator, Atlanta musician Darrell Kelley, said he has driven it to scenes of unjust killings of Black people and to other cities to fight systemic racism and police brutality.
“It hurts me to know the number of people killed...” he said.
He named seven people whose deaths he said were unjust and for whom he had written songs. He had written and recorded one for Ahmaud Arbery and played it from the casket that has speakers along its sides.
Arbery’s name is not on the casket, and Kelley said there could be additional caskets, but he hopes not.
“I hope and pray for a better country,’’ he said.
He also criticized the looting and rioting that ensued after Rittenhouse was acquitted and said, “That is not the answer.”
“I want to fight for America,’’ he said, “but I want to know why I’m fighting.”
Some of his words during an interview were partially drowned out by louder voices that encouraged revolution.
“There’s no hope in the courthouse,’’ one man shouted. “All you have is yourself.”
There were also frequent shouts of Black power and the 30-plus Black Panthers who stood with Shabazz shouted, “No good cop in a racist system.”
Before the afternoon news conference and the chants on the grounds, a few Black Panthers, some of them masked, marched around the old and current Glynn County courthouses carrying flags. A woman marcher wearing gold colonel’s eagle insignia carried a flagpole with a pink, plush pig suspended by its neck. As she stood by a group of chanting fellow members, she let the pig drop to the concrete walkway and stamped on it several times.
The news conference started well after the originally announced starting time and the Black Panthers said Shabazz would be joined by members of Arbery’s family. When they left the courthouse at the noon break, however, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and other family members avoided the walkway where protesters were standing and walked to their cars. Some of the Black Panthers followed but returned without them.
By midafternoon, a group of about eight Black Panthers bearing what appeared to be AR-15 rifles stood on the sidewalk beside Reynolds Street just off the courthouse grounds. Some of the rifles appeared to have magazines loaded into them.
A group of local clergy plans a more peaceful gathering Tuesday at the courthouse, a Vigil for Grace at 5:30 p.m.