Local officials in Brunswick, Georgia are urging unity and preparing for protests, as jury selection in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial begins this week.

Three white men — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan are accused of shooting the black 25-year-old as he jogged through a Brunswick neighborhood in February 2020, a crime that prosecutors are saying was racially motivated. The shooting sparked national outrage last year, when a video apparently depicting Ahmaud’s death went viral.

All three men have received felony murder charges, and will face life imprisonment if convicted. Screening of more than 1,000 potential jurors began Monday for a trial that could last weeks.

Officials Prepare for Demonstrations

Tensions are high in the Glynn County town, as officials are preparing for large-scale protests and appealing for peaceful demonstrations.

Glynn County police Capt. Jeremiah Bergquist, part of a coalition of county officials formed to deal with potential unrest during the trial, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the police presence would be limited in hopes of avoiding a violent clash with protestors.

“We would like to maintain as small a footprint as possible,” he said. “This is not a situation where we’re just going to put a police officer on every corner because we wouldn’t do that typically. We’re trying to create a small footprint to let people express themselves, and hopefully that works out.”

Local elected officials are also urging unity ahead of Monday’s planned demonstrations.

“We anticipate the upcoming trial will draw nationwide attention and large gatherings,” said Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey.

“Rest assured [police at the protests] are there to protect your right to assemble without fear or violence,” the mayor added.

“After the trial is over and the bus-loads of demonstrators and media leave, we still have to live here. We still have to live with each other,” urged Allen Booker, a Glynn County Commissioner.

Already, dozens of supporters from across the country have made the trip to Brunswick to demonstrate in solidarity with the family of Ahmaud Arbery. On Monday, a group gathered peacefully at the Glynn County Courthouse to chant Arbery’s name.

“We’re hoping that justice is served here for the families. All of us are here to support the Arbery family,” said one protestor who had traveled to Georgia from Chicago.

Trial Already Contentious

The prosecution of the three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery has already been the subject of controversy.

None of the three were arrested immediately after the shooting, as the Glynn County Police Department had reportedly been told by the Brunswick District Attorney not to do so. Since then, Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson has been charged with obstructing the investigation and shielding the accused killers from prosecution.

Other issues have arisen from one of the accused killer’s connections to local law enforcement. Gregory McMichael is a retired investigator and police officer with Glynn County police, which some have speculated was a factor in his delayed arrest.

Several prosecutors have also recused themselves from the case, citing personal connections to the accused.

Federal Charges Also Filed

The three accused killers are also facing federal charges. In April, a federal grand jury indicted the men with one count each of interference with rights, and with one count each of attempted kidnapping.

The charges stem from the events that allegedly led up to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery — the men, who have said they suspected Arbery was a burglar, attempted to detain the 25-year-old at gunpoint, federal prosecutors said.

“All three defendants attempted to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape,” the Justice Department said in a statement.