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Brunswick pastor discusses the guilty verdicts in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery


John Perry joins us next. He's a senior pastor of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Brunswick, Ga. And he joined the Arbery family during the trial. Welcome to the program, sir.

JOHN PERRY: Thank you.


PERRY: Good morning to you, and happy Thanksgiving.

INSKEEP: Happy Thanksgiving to you, sir. Debbie Elliott's report included a description there of a T-shirt that said justice served. Was it?

PERRY: Yes, it was. It was a breathtaking moment. As a community leader, one of the things that we did was really encourage our community - let's go through this process the right way. And so when the verdict was given, it was literally breathtaking. A lot of weight lifted off of my shoulders as a leader encouraging people to maintain peace in such a hostile event that took place here within our community.

INSKEEP: When you say hostile event, do you mean the attack itself, the murder itself or the way the wider community responded to those who wanted justice?

PERRY: Well, the attack primarily. It was a gross act of violence that we're not really accustomed to here as a community. And then the absence of an arrest immediately caused people within the community to be outraged. And so, you know, initially it took some doing to get everyone calm and get everyone on that same page of pursuing justice the right way.

INSKEEP: Let's remind people about that. This was a killing that was little noticed at the time and there were not initially charges. And then after a little while, a video was leaked that gave people some idea of what really had happened there. And then authorities stepped in. And then charges were filed. And then a trial proceeded. When you look back on all of that, would you say the system worked?

PERRY: Well, the Ahmaud Arbery killing revealed to us that we had a lot of work to do within our local system. It was impossible to project that the McMichaels would do such a heinous act. And you can never predict when an individual is going to assault another individual. But if that does happen, you're depending on your local justice system to step in and to make it right. In our case, there was no arrest made. Literally, we waited over 70 days for there to be an arrest made. And that arrest that was made, it had to happen from state officials because our local officials at the time were not willing to do the job that taxpayers put them in place to do.

INSKEEP: Have local officials acknowledged that maybe they should have approached this case differently?

PERRY: Well, we've had different individuals from within different divisions to make statements of regret or sympathy, but holistically, we never got a statement from our county commissioners who oversee the county police department. Now, the citizens did rally together to make significant changes as a result of the things that happened in the Ahmaud Arbery case. We have a new chief of police now. Two of the county commissioners that served at that time were upseated. And so we're seeing some positive changes as a result of this because the community has been awakened and recognized that they have to be a part of the process.

INSKEEP: We've just got about a minute left, but I want to end with Ahmaud Arbery himself. In a couple of sentences for those who didn't know him, what was he like?

PERRY: Well, my son played football with Ahmaud Arbery, and one of the statements that he told me initially when he found out, he said, Dad, what are you all are going to do about this? Because he was a good young man. He encouraged everyone around him and always was someone that will put a smile on the face of others, had a wonderful sense of humor. And so the idea that they would taint the narrative of this younger man's life by saying that he was committing a burglary was outright unthinkable.

INSKEEP: Pastor John Perry of Brunswick, Ga., it's a pleasure talking with you on this Thanksgiving morning. Thanks for spending some time with us.

PERRY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.