A South Bend business is selling T-shirts with a pro-police message after the Notre Dame women’s basketball team wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts to protest police brutality.
Protests have erupted in cities across the country after grand juries failed to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
Athletes have shown their support for the protests by wearing shirts during warm-ups emblazoned with Garner’s last words — which have become the rallying cry of the protest movement.
“It wasn’t anti-law enforcement, anti-anything message,” said Notre Dame player Tara Reimer, who urged her teammates to join the protest. “It’s just showing condolence for the family and supporting them.”
In response, South Bend Uniform began selling a shirt that reads, “Breathe Easy – Don’t Break the Law.”
Owner Jason Barthel, a Mishawaka, Indiana, police corporal, said he’s selling the shirts to show “another side of the story.”
“This is intended to be a uniting and positive thing, not to divide,” Barthel said.
The officer said he perceived the basketball team’s shirts as “confrontational,” and the president of his police union said officers do a dangerous job without engaging in political expression.
“We do it every day,” said Pasquale Rulli, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Mishawka. “No matter what, we come here. We still answer the calls. We don’t make political statements and blow things off. We do what we were sworn to do.”
Barthel said the response to his shirts has so far been about 85 percent positive, and he posted a statement on the shop’s Facebook page to explain the shirt’s message.
“For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan ‘Breathe Easy’ we are referring to knowing the police are there for you!” the statement read. “We are one people, one nation regardless of race, religion, creed or gender. We are all in this together. The police are here to protect and serve. 99.9% of us have the greater good in our hearts each time we strap on our uniforms and duty belts. We are all one people and this is by no means is a slam on Eric Garner or his family, God rest his soul. Lets all band together as AMERICANS regardless of our feelings and know we can and will be better!”
Watch this video report posted online by WSJV-TV: