A cop who owns a clothing business in Indiana has responded to protests over the police killing of an unarmed black man in New York with T-shirts reading: “Breathe Easy: Don’t Break the Law.”
The phrase was a play on the last words of the man, Eric Garner, after he was placed in a chokehold by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in July: “I can’t breathe.”
Jason Barthel, a police officer and owner of South Bend Uniform, told television station WSBT the shirts were selling quickly.
“We are not here to do anything negative to the public,” he told the station “We’re here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you.”
The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but a grand jury on Dec. 3 decided not to indict Pantaleo in the death. Protesters demonstrating across the country in the wake of the decision have adopted “I Can’t Breathe” as a slogan.
On its Facebook page on Monday night, South Bend Uniform addressed the backlash to the line of shirts:
“For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan ‘Breathe Easy’ we are referring to knowing the police are there for you!” the post read.
“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,” it added. “We are all one people and this is by no means is a slam on Eric Garner or his family, God rest his soul.”