(Reuters) – A police union in Ohio criticized football player Andrew Hawkins for wearing a shirt protesting the fatal police shooting in November of a 12-year-old African-American boy who was carrying a pellet gun, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper reported.
Hawkins, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, wore a T-shirt during pre-game warm-ups that read, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford,” referring to the 12-year-old Rice and a 22-year-old man, both shot in separate incidents while carrying pellet guns by Ohio police.
In wearing the shirt, Hawkins became the latest of numerous sports stars to wear shirts referencing the killing of unarmed black men by police in U.S. cities, sparked by grand jury decisions not to prosecute officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York.
Hawkins wore the shirt before the Browns’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cleveland, two days after Rice’s death at the hands of Cleveland police was ruled a homicide.
Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Jeff Follmer said that the shirt was disrespectful, and called Hawkins “pathetic,” the newspaper reported.
“He’s an athlete. He’s someone with no facts of the case whatsoever,” the newspaper quoted Follmer as saying. “He’s disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision.”
Follmer also demanded an apology from the Browns, the newspaper said.
The team has not yet responded, the newspaper said.
Last week, a wave of basketball and football stars donned “I can’t breathe” shirts – one of the rallying cries of demonstrators against U.S. policing tactics in black communities.
Players for the St. Louis Rams football team also angered local police when they made hand gestures referencing the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan connected with protests against the police shooting of 18-year-old Brown, an unarmed black teen in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson whose death drew international attention and sparked months of sometimes violent protests.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Eric Walsh)