Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins became the latest player to join on-field protests against recent police shootings of black men on Sunday, when he walked onto the field with a t-shirt that read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” over his jersey.
Rice was the 12-year-old who Cleveland police shot in November after they received calls that he was playing with a toy gun in a park near his home; Crawford was killed by police in August in an Ohio while holding an air gun in a Walmart. Both were black.
Now, the Cleveland police union is demanding an apology from Hawkins and the Browns, saying that players like Hawkins don’t understand the law enough to take a stand.
“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follman, the president of the Police Patrolman Union in Cleveland, said in a statement to Cleveland news station newsnet5. “They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”
“He’s an athlete. He’s someone with no facts of the case whatsoever,” Follmer said later, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “He’s disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision.”
The union statement is similar to one issued by the St. Louis police union after five Rams players walked onto the field before a game displaying the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo. police officer who shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in August. In that instance, the union called on the team and the NFL to discipline the five players. Though neither the Rams nor the NFL did so, the Rams last week made a donation to a local police charity.
The Browns responded to Follmer and the union in a statement, saying: “We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city. We also respect our players’ rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner.”
After the Rams players protested, similar gestures spread across sports, especially after a grand jury in New York declined to bring charges against a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was choked to death by police in Staten Island. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose took the court the next weekend wearing a shirt that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” which were among Garner’s last words and has become a rallying cry in protests across the country. Multiple NFL players, including Hawkins’ teammate Johnson Bademosi, wore similar shirts last weekend as the protests spread across the sports world. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and other players have worn the shirts too.
The protests continued through the week and into this weekend, spreading to the ranks of college basketball. Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team and Georgetown’s men’s team were among those that wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts before a game this weekend. The University of California women’s basketball team took the court Saturday wearing handmade shirts that bore the names of black men and teens killed recently by police.