NEW YORK — Eric Garner’s final words have become a rallying call for protesters across the country.
In the days following a grand jury decision not to indict New York police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s chokehold death, demonstrators in New York City and beyond took to the streets demanding justice, chanting “I can’t breathe” — a reference to Garner’s last utterance.
A police officer and small business owner in Indiana is hoping to change the conversation around police-community relations.
Jason Barthel, an officer with the Mishawaka Police Department and the owner of South Bend Uniform Company, is selling a T-shirt that reads “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law.” The shirt is emblazoned with a graphic of a police officer’s badge.
Barthel said the shirt is meant to bring people together and remind communities that police officers are there to serve and protect — not to harm.
“When we use the slogan ‘Breathe Easy’ we are referring to knowing the police are there for you! The police are here to protect and serve,” Barthel wrote on Facebook. “99.9% of us have the greater good in our hearts each time we strap on our uniforms and duty belts.”
Not everyone agrees with his reasoning. Many have taken to his company’s Facebook page to criticize the shirt’s reference to Garner and the controversy surrounding his death.
“This shirt shows great disrespect to the family of Eric (Garner), and all victims of police misconduct. Please reconsider its production,” wrote one commenter.
“As a marketer you know using a reference to that will sell. It is poor taste, and inflammatory. How does this help in any way relations between police and community?” wrote another.
Barthel maintains that the shirt is “by no means is a slam on Eric Garner or his family” and that “we are one people, one nation regardless of race, religion, creed or gender.”
The shirt sells for $7.95 online, where a banner advertising the shirt reads “Make a Statement.” Barthel told CNN affiliate WSBT that he has already received over 100 orders and that phones have been ringing nonstop.
Garner’s death was later ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier this month that federal officials were moving ahead with a civil rights investigation.
The city of Mishawaka is located in northern Indiana, just south of the Michigan border.