By Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Church Leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
Happy Father’s Day. That phrase was echoed across the country as the focus was placed upon the role that father’s have played and continue to play in the lives of their children and their families. I am deeply conflicted every time this day rolls around. I have tried to be a good father and grandfather, but it did not come through at-home observation since my father abandoned our family when I was only ten-years old.
However, as hard as it was to have my father turn his back on me, I am sure it does not compare to the pain felt today by the four-year child in the car of Philando Castille. That child was sitting in the back seat of their family car in suburban Minneapolis when a police officer shot that father in the chest five times after stopping him over a broken taillight on that car.
Castille was reaching for his ID which he told the police officer was in the glove box where almost all drivers keep their vehicle registration. While complying with the request of the officer, Castille was shot and killed. The public would not have known about this act of murder by a person in blue if Castille’s girlfriend had not recorded the whole thing on Facebook Live.
Just a few days ago a jury acquitted that police officer on all counts. The officer went free while Castille’s family went into shock and then rage. Despite the video that clearly showed that Castille posed no threat and was in full compliance with officer instructions, he was killed and the officer was acquitted. The officer fell back on the reliable excuse used by almost every police officer who wrongly shoots an innocent person : “I feared for my life.”
How many white families have to rehearse with their children what they should say and do if they are stopped by the police?
Please understand, this is how many black people feel when they are stopped by the police for the slightest suspected offense like an inoperable vehicle taillight. As the officers approach, with their hands on the steering wheel, many black people suddenly find themselves in a situation where they fear for their lives. This feeling is not limited to young men or to people who may look suspicious. This is how almost every black man I know thinks and feels in this present political and social climate. One false move, one wrong word, or one police officer who is having a bad day, and any one of us could be the next Philando Castille. How many white men worry that an encounter with a police officer could result in their being shot and killed? How many white families have to rehearse with their children what they should say and do if they are stopped by the police?
Over and over again, it seems that the response from our society is that Black Lives Do Not Matter. A police officer shot and killed an innocent black man who was complying with officer instructions. The officer who shot the man while a four-year child was sitting in the back seat of the car was acquitted. I am sure it was a Happy Father’s Day for the family of the police officer, but there is a vacant seat and broken hearts for the family of Philando Castille. Not every Father’s Day is happy for every child.