The attorney defending the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery looked back at the people sitting in the courtroom and saw something dangerous. No, he didn’t see someone who threatened violence or disruption. He saw two figures who were scarier to him than that. He saw two Black ministers.

Ahmaud Arbery was the twenty-five-year-old Black man who was jogging through a predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia when three white men decided to interpret his presence as a crime. Chasing Ahmaud in two pickup trucks, the men shot and killed him.

Prosecutors believe the three men would likely have gotten away with murder, claiming self-defense, if one of the men hadn’t filmed the killing on his cellphone.

Was recording and releasing the murder simple stupidity on the killers’ part? No, it was arrogance. The three men didn’t invent this scenario, a group of white men chasing and killing a lone Black man. Running down and executing Black men and women has been going on since the days of slavery, but the crime continued through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and into our present day. So few of these murders have ended in convictions that it would be laughable if it weren’t so horrific. The men who killed Ahmaud knew this.

Even with the damning video, the killers thought they could be acquitted by claiming they were making a “citizen’s arrest,” and then, when Ahmaud resisted, they could claim self-defense.

But then Kevin Gough, one of the defense attorneys, looked around the courtroom one day and spotted Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson sitting with the Arbery family. He asked the judge to demand that the two ministers leave, claiming their presence was “intimidating.”

If the three murderers were repeating the action of white predecessors, so too the ministers were repeating the action of their predecessors—Black ministers. The one institution that could be counted on to speak for justice in the face of injustice and racism, to hold the community together against all the forces that wanted to tear it apart, to rebuild fire-bombed places of worship, and to lead the fight for racial equality is the Black Church.

This is what Kevin Gough understood instinctively when he saw the two ministers sitting with the family. He wasn’t worried that Rev. Sharpton or Rev. Jackson would stand up and cause a scene. He was worried that they would sit in silent witness, looking without turning away at the defendants, the attorneys, the judge, and the jury.

Martin Luther King said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In every era of American history, from slavery to the present, the Black Church has been on the side of the right, the side of justice. I challenge anyone to name one cause that the Black Church has embraced throughout American history that our society hasn’t ultimately viewed as the right choice, the moral choice to make.

That is what was so intimidating about the two ministers sitting with the Arbery family. When the two ministers stepped into that courtroom, the moral compass of our country entered the room. The defense attorney knew in that moment that he wasn’t competing against just the prosecutor. He was fighting against a moral universe that bends toward justice.