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Fountain: ‘Am I still only a beast in this land I so love?’

Friends and family react at the funeral of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday. Sterling was shot by a police officer in front of a food mart July 5. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating. Photo by Sean Gardner, Getty Images.

Ain’t I a man? Or am I still only a beast in this land I so love?

Equal to, not less than. Not an animal, not a ‘coon, not a monkey or an ape, but a man. An American.

I am big, bald and unapologetically black — non-shucking and jiving, dark-skinned black. And my country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.


I have no felonies. No record of even a misdemeanor. I have never dealt drugs nor committed a crime. No criminal past, zilch.

I am a professor, mentor, author, writer. A college grad, accomplished, successful. My portrait is in the Sunday newspaper each week. I am as American as apple pie and my Harley Davidson and convertible Chevrolet.

And yet, I am not immune from a cop stopping me for any reason on any day, and calling me a MF-er; or belittling me in front of my wife and children, or shooting me in the head.

I am a black man in America — inescapably breathing, living, walking and driving while black. That is what a racist rogue cop sees — 5-10 to 6-foot-tall male black suspect, inhuman beast.

This is my daily reality amid my American dream. My daily millstone to carry in this nightmare of historic truth for the black man in America, where every black man — even a black man with the U.S. Presidential seal on the side of his car — will never be seen by some as being anything more than just another “n—–.”

Cops have the right to stop me, the power to abuse me, to trump up charges and then to lie on me. To plant “evidence.” To talk to, and treat me, like a dog. The power to deny me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness simply because of the color of my skin.

Not all cops are bad. Some of my best friends are police and other law enforcement officers. But please excuse me if I don’t quite feel up to holding hands with the police and singing Kumbaya.

No police officer’s life is ever at risk from me. But my life is potentially at risk every time I encounter a cop on the street. It doesn’t matter if I’m John Fountain, or “Tyrone.”

Reaching for my license and registration, even upon command, can make my life gone and my family left to mourn while America replays the same hypocritical song — one that rings with alluring notes of freedom and democracy to the sons and daughters of foreign lands but that rings hollow for some of its own.

More than 150 years later (since the Emancipation Proclamation), the Negro still is not free. The litany of my beloved country’s racial sins still not at an end. Our distrust of the police hard to mend.

Our soul is scarred by memories of how police brutally beat Rodney King. Assassinated Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, as they lay fast asleep. By Bull Connor’s angry police dogs and fire hoses. By the history of slave patrols and southern lynchings at will. By Mayor Richard J. Daley’s order for police to shoot to kill …

By former Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture of more than 100 black males. By the posthumous portraits of Emmett Louis Till. By Officer Jason Van Dyke’s 16 shots by which Laquan McDonald was killed. By thoughts of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile …

By that picture of two white Chicago cops with rifles standing over a young black man with deer antlers on his head — that makes me ask over and over again:

Ain’t I a man?