‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts Mean ‘I Can’t Play’ for HS Basketball Players

A California basketball tournament has disinvited the girls’ and boys’ teams from a high school because competitors sought to wear “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts at the event.

After NBA stars such as Derrick Rose, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant donned the shirts drawing attention to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island loosie cigarette salesmen killed as a result of an encounter with New York City cops, the basketball teams of Mendocino High School wore the gear highlighting the case in games against Fort Bragg High School and in Northern California tournaments. Fort Bragg officials worried that the teams wearing the shirts again would spark an incident.

A man gunned down two New York City cops before Christmas in part in response to New York City cops ending Garner’s life in the encounter and numerous protests of the cigarette salesman’s death as well as cigar thief Michael Brown’s killing have become destructive.

“To protect the safety and well-being of all tournament participants it is necessary to ensure that all political statements and or protests are kept away from this tournament,” Fort Bragg High School Principal Rebecca Walker announced in a statement. “We are a small school district that simply does not have the resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, students and guests at the tournament should someone get upset and choose to act out.”

Most players on Mendocino’s teams agreed to forgo the shirts for a chance to play in the tournament, reports the Associated Press. But host Fort Bragg still revoked the invitations of the teams, causing critics to charge administrators with setting a bad example by allowing non-existent security concerns to trump the students’ freedom of expression.

Three-fourths of the students at Mendocino High School, which sits roughly 3,000 miles from Staten Island, are white. Garner, an African American, ran afoul of New York City officials by selling single cigarettes, a practice that generally leaves the city short the $1.60 cents in taxes it collects on every pack and the state short the $4.35 cents–the highest of any state–it levies per pack.

A distressed Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” after cops wrestled him to the ground.


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