You have got to be fucking kidding me.
Day by day, "I can't breathe," Eric Garner's last words which have become the anti-police violence rallying cry, have become more and more ubiquitous, inescapable. We see "I can't breathe" T-shirts and signs everywhere—a sign that we are hopefully approaching a critical mass necessary to do something about the targeting and killing of black men at the hands of police. Well now, one policeman has a response in the form of his own T-shirts. They read "Breathe easy—don't break the law."
The shirts were designed by Jason Barthel, a police corporal and owner of South Bend Uniform in Indiana, and they only cost $7.95 ($9.95 for 2XL-3XL)! The shirts apparently made their debut after the Notre Dame women's basketball team wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts.
Now, if you're thinking that not only is it inappropriate and completely distasteful to co-opt a dying man's last words, to take a phrase that has been used to fight against police brutality and to straight up mock it and the movement behind it, to re-assert police dominance in the situation, and to make money off of it, get real!
Barthel doesn't mean harm! He just thinks that "I can't breathe" is too confrontational and that "Breathe easy" is way more polite! Silly Eric Garner really should have thought about how his words would come across as he was being deprived of oxygen by Daniel Pantaleo. In a Facebook post, Barthel wrote:
For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan "Breathe Easy" we are referring to knowing the police are there for you! 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! Thank you for your support.
"God rest his soul." Fuck off, man. And yes, Barthel reduces racial discourse and demand for justice to "feelings." That is what happened there.
Not to mention the mildly threatening and incredibly disturbing "Don't break the law" line merely serves to justify deadly force and reassert police dominance in the situation, derailing the conversation. As if the murders of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and Tamir Rice were ever really about breaking the law.
Image via South Bend Uniform's Facebook.