A corporal in the Mishawaka Police Department is taking criticism from local politicians for selling t-shirts with a pro-police message as an answer to the anti-cop shirts worn by the Notre Dame women’s basketball team during last Saturday’s game.
During the warm up period for the game, members of the school’s women’s basketball team, the Wolverines, took the court wearing t-shirts with the now ubiquitous “I Can’t Breathe” message emblazoned on them. The phrase is reportedly the last words of New Yorker Eric Garner, who died as police tried to arrest him earlier this year.
Despite the clear message, players claimed the shirts weren’t anti-cop but that, by wearing them, they were only trying to show support for Eric Garner’s family.
In response, corporal Jason Barthel began to sell shirts with a message of his own: “Breathe Easy–Don’t Break The Law.”
Barthel said he felt that the girls’ shirts were “confrontational,” and he wanted to give “another side of the story” by putting out a shirt with a better, more “positive” message. He is now selling the t-shirts at his police uniform supply shop, South Bend Uniform.
Barthel’s union representative agreed that the girls’ shirts were too negative, telling the media that the job of a police officer is hard enough without basketball players trying to stir hate against them.
“We do it every day,” president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Mishawka Pasquale Rulli said. “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 released a statement fully explaining the shirts he sells at his store.
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!
But three South Bend Common Council members are demanding that Barthel put a halt to the shirt sales.
On Tuesday, council members Oliver Davis, Henry Davis Jr., and Valerie Schey demanded that Barthel stop selling his pro-police shirts, calling them “divisive.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org