"Breathe Easy." F@#k You.

[Content Note: Police brutality; racism.]

Eric Garner's last words were "I can't breathe." He said it over and over as police put him in the choke hold that would kill him. It has become a protest refrain, chanted by demonstrators in streets and emblazoned on signs and t-shirts, the literal words of a dying man and a figurative description of the feeling of communities oppressed by state-sanctioned violence, for which there is no accountability.

In South Bend, Indiana, a store owned by Mishawaka Police Corporal Jason Barthel has begun selling t-shirts featuring a police badge and text reading: "Breathe Easy: Don't Break the Law."

Not only does this insensitive and contemptible shirt appropriate the rallying cry of people protesting police violence, but it does so to make a mockery of their pain, and to implicitly victim-blame anyone who is subjected to police brutality. The clear message is: If you break the law, you won't be able to breathe easy. Or at all.

It's a justification for murderous police brutality against the black community, while simultaneously eliding that many of the black people recently killed by police haven't actually broken any laws, and implicitly asserting that being killed in the street is a legitimate consequence of lawbreaking.

Naturally, however, that wasn't the police officer's intent. Of course it wasn't.
The controversial twist on the "I can't Breathe" campaign — one intended to protest Eric Garner's death by a police officer — is meant to spread a message that "police are there for you," according to the South Bend store owned by Mishawaka Police Corporal Jason Barthel.

..."For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan 'Breathe Easy' we are referring to knowing the police are there for you!" South Bend Uniform posted on their Facebook page in response to angry comments, some calling the design "insensitive" and "disrespectful."

"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," the company's post continues. "Let's all band together as AMERICANS regardless of our feelings and know we can and will be better! Thank you for your support."
I don't buy for a moment that this shirt wasn't explicitly designed to justify police brutality, but, even indulging Barthel's ludicrous assertion that it was merely intended to remind people that police are on their side, that means he had no expectation of how the shirt would be "misread," which itself highlights how disconnected he is from the lived experiences of victims of police violence.

In other words: Even in his best case garbage fantasy scenario, it's still fucking terrible.

Again, I don't believe that Barthel did not understand how this "controversial twist" would be received, and I don't believe that he intended it to communicate merely a helpful reminder that "the police are here to protect and serve" and that "99.9% of us [citation needed] have the greater good in our hearts." But even if he did, and he's not the giant fucking liar he appears to be, this is still a colossal failure.

The shirt is harmful, even if one accepts his pathetic explanation. Because, as we discuss regarding various social justice issues all the time, when any portion of a group of which you're a member, either by identity or chosen affiliation, fucks up, the right response is not to insist, "Most of us aren't like that!" The right response is to acknowledge why those failures have led to mistrust, and endeavoring to make yourself trustworthy. A huge part of which is condemning the fuck-ups, not trying to mask them behind, "Most of us have goodness in our hearts."

#NotAllCops. Just a small but vocal minority. Sure.

If you want us to believe that, then the large majority of police needs to get vocal. Needs to publicly and unilaterally condemn police killing. Needs to stop indulging this pretense that every black person who is being killed was committing a crime at the time. Needs to stop suggesting that committing any crime is justification for being shot by police. Needs to advocate accountability for cops who act as judge, jury, and executioner. Needs to meaningfully address issues of privilege and racism that means black people are disproportionately victimized by police violence. Needs to speak the fuck up in support of victims of police violence, and shut down clowns like Police Corporal Jason Barthel.

I don't care if your hearts are filled with good intentions. I want your heads to be filled with justice.

[H/T to Aphra_Behn.]

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