John Fountain: What is our sin except to live in this black skin?

SHARE John Fountain: What is our sin except to live in this black skin?

On Thursday, a group of women light candles to form the letters BLM, for Black Lives Matter, before a vigil at the University of Michigan Diag in Ann Arbor, Mich., in honor of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men recently shot and killed by police. (Katy Kildee/The Ann Arbor News via AP)

“I am only a mouthpiece through which to tell the story of lynching and I have told it so often that I know it by heart. I do not have to embellish; it makes its own way.” -Ida B. Wells

I cannot rest. Cannot write. Cannot carry on today, unless I pause to say: “Why the hell did those cops treat Alton Sterling that way?”

Shot in the chest while he lay helpless on the ground. “Armed and dangerous” white killers get taken in by police without incident. Maybe some Burger King if they’re hungry. Black men get shot down.

Armed or unarmed, it really doesn’t matter. Licensed to kill us on sight. The same old American chapter: “Shoot to maim …” “Shoot to kill …” The lynching of black men, an historic American thrill.

Soon after comes the assassination of our character. The focus on our past. The circling of wagons. The effort to criminalize even our last acts, last moments, last gasps. The loyal blue concoction of reports that try to justify. That asks us not to believe the tale of the videotape. Not to trust our “lying eyes.”


To ignore the cries:

“I can’t breathe.”

“Officer, what did I do?”

“Please tell me why?”

And eight years after Obama promised that “change” was gonna come, our black blood still runs. “Strange Fruit” no longer by noose. But still by a cop’s gun. They choke us. Shoot us. Jail us. Beat us. Mistreat us. Still trying to defeat us: our fathers, brothers, sons.

As sure as the sun rises, the fabric of a nation still despises us. Still calls us the “N” word. Still spews cursing and hate. Still suggests that we wait for justice amid the absurd.

Treats “thug” and “professional” black men alike. The color of our skin: the target of their sights. That makes 21st century lynching right as all black men are perceived as rapist, killer, mugger, villain. As irredeemable trash. Animalistic creatures that murderous white cops should blast. Rather than as fathers. Husbands. Sons. Lovers. As men free at last.

And what is our sin except to live in America in this black skin?

And so, with tears in my eyes, I pause to say: Alton Sterling did not deserve to die that way. Murdered with the white man’s “foot on his neck.” In the heat of the night. No dawn’s early light but amid flashes of gunfire’s light. Shot while on his back. No crime or sin committed. Except to be American born black.

And eight years after Obama’s hope that “change” was gonna come, we still getting lynched and our black blood still runs. And the pundits and experts take their side. Run stories that vilify us; that humanize them. Find ways to explain why at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect we black men still die.

So as I watched Alton Sterling’s son cry, I could only ask, “Why?”

Then hours later, I watched another black man die. Philando Castile — shot multiple times while in a car next to his fiancé Diamond Reynolds. While her 4-year-old daughter sat in the back. And this innocent man bled and took his last breath from a cowardly cop’s senseless act.

“Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone,” I heard Reynolds plead. “Please don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration … ”

Absolutely no justification.

Unless you consider this one fact: that he was born in America male and black.


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