SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Rev. Da’Henri Thurmond and Rev. Chester Ellis say they want change, but that the community and the country need to decide what that means.
Thurmond says we are a critical moment. “We’re seeing a level of injustice in our country that has persisted for generations,” he said. “We are at the intersection of what was, what is happening now and yet what can be.”
Both Thurmond and Ellis say long-standing economic and health issues manifested in the number of African Americans that have been affected by COVID-19. They say that only added to the pain of the inequities in the criminal justice system.
“In policing, they need to evaluate some things that have been going on and some things that have been done and know they can’t do anymore,” said Ellis.
They cited the case of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed in Brunswick by two white men who pursued him through their neighborhood. The men, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis were charged with murder two months after Arbery was killed. A third suspect, William Bryan has now also been charged.
Thurmond pointed out that the older McMichael is a former law enforcement officer.
“That speaks to a level of mentality and speaks to a culture that a young black man could be in a community and be jogging down the street and he is immediately identified as someone who’s doing wrong,” said Thurmond. “We have to have discussions in this community or we are setting ourselves up for an Arbery incident.”
Thurmond supports abolishing the Citizens Arrest Law in Georgia and also endorses a hate crime bill. One such bill is now in the Georgia Senate.
Ellis agreed, saying, “the law gives you consequences for your actions, it puts place a level of punishment for those who think they can do harm just because of the color of a person’s skin.”
Both Ellis and Thurmond also call for consideration of a citizens review board locally.
“Citizens need to know how their police force is operating,” said Thurmond.
Ellis does say it has to be more than meetings and demonstrations — it has to be a plan moving forward.
“We can just talk about it and agree that something needs to be changed but then not have any plans on how we’re going to make that happen,” said Ellis. “That’s why I believe the Savannah Alliance of Pastors will be talking to the sheriff, and area police chiefs and that can help provide actions on how things need to change.”