Pro-Police T-Shirt: “Obey Us or We Might Kill You”

Is “obey us” the only solution a pro-police advocate can propose?

So here is an image that showed up in my Facebook feed over the weekend.  I don’t agree with everything in it. Among other problems, I’d like a court to hear arguments about the use of the word “murder” for what happened.

breathe t-shirt

My first thought was that I hoped this story is not true. But, at least in general, it is. From “Sales of ‘dangerous’ T-shirt soar today.”

Sales of a controversial T-shirt appeared to soar today—one day after three South Bend Common Council members publicly asked that the product be pulled.

In a letter signed by Council members Oliver Davis, Henry Davis, Jr., and Valerie Schey, the message on the shirt was called “dangerous.”

The shirt reads: “Breathe easy, don’t break the law.”

“Everybody should be given a chance to breathe easy, even those who follow the law, and those who don’t follow the law,” said Council President Oliver Davis. “A man, again whose dying words is, ‘I can’t breathe’ and we’re making fun of that. That’s almost, no it’s not almost, that’s embarrassing for us to say now we’re going to brag about this and this reflects our police officers. No, our police officers deserve better than that.”

The shirt was created by the owner of South Bend Uniform. Today around noon, the sleepy little store took on a Black Friday feel, as three dozen customers formed a line that wound around the store and out the door.

“We sold 2,000 shirts on-line overnight,” said the clerk working the cash register. “So yeah, it’s been amazing.”

OK, let me just speak to those of you who think we have no law enforcement crisis in this country.

I understand that you don’t think that the officer who grabbed Eric Garner was guilty of a negligent homicide. I understand that you feel like you are being mistreated in the public. I’m sure that the alleged history of sexual assaults will turn out to be not true.

But you cannot allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that this T-shirt is a good idea. No matter what you want to think it means, the only objective meaning that can possibly be assigned to it is:

“Obey us or we might kill you.”

That is not conservative; it is not Christian; it is not American. If Eric Garner’s death was a tragic accident and not the fault of the police, that can be discussed. But to imply that he deserved to die because he wanted to talk and slapped a hand away is not a great public relations strategy. Actually, the shirt’s message implies he deserved what happened to him for selling loose cigarettes. To threaten the entire rest of the nation with suffocation if they don’t track and keep more laws than you even know yourselves, is not a great public relations strategy. It is not witty. It is not a comeback.

[See also, “Jon Stewart on Eric Garner: Pushing Race.”]

You know what it is: It is exactly the kind of behavior your accusers expect from you. That is exactly the kind of t-shirt people who believe you are all violent gangbangers would expect you to wear.

If you want to argue that Garner was an unfortunate accident, you are not going to get a hearing by claiming that it is right to threaten death to anyone who disobeys any of America’s many, many laws.

Remember, it isn’t just people who break the law who get this treatment. A man got killed in his own home—shot in the back by your “brothers in blue”—while lying face down on the floor. His crime was having his car stolen by a meth head. Then there is this man who was assaulted and framed repeatedly by your brothers in blue because he was depressed and drinking in his own home.

And what happened when one of your brothers in blue was found to be using his virtually unlimited authority to rape women? Oh yeah, it was the message on that T-shirt: the highway patrol captain said that women should be sure to obey traffic law so that they wouldn’t be raped. Because there is no reason to expect a serial rapist with a badge to pull a woman driver over on false pretenses.

If you want to increase and amplify anti-police sentiment in this country, then by all means, wear the T-shirt. Wear it loud and proud.

But in doing so you are moving the country in a direction that won’t end well—not for you or anybody else.