An Indiana police officer who created T-shirts riffing on the "I can't breathe" protest slogan isn't backing down from selling the controversial garb. The shirts read, "Breathe easy, don't break the law" — an apparent reference to the last words uttered by unarmed New York City man Eric Garner during a fatal police chokehold in July. The words have since become a popular rallying cry at protests across the country.
Mishawaka police officer Jason Barthel began selling the shirts this week at a South Bend store he owns after a weekend protest at the University of Notre Dame. Members of Notre Dame's women's basketball team wore T-shirts before their Saturday game emblazoned with the "I can't breathe" message.
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Members of the South Bend City Council called on Barthel to stop selling his "Breathe Easy" shirts, and said in a statement that "the divisive message ... that is being currently promoted through the sale of T-shirts bearing this message damages the goal of unity and further divides our community."
For its part, Barthel's store on Facebook won't pull the shirts from shelves. "For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan 'Breathe Easy' we are referring to knowing the police are there for you!" the store said in a statement Monday.
Several calls to Barthel's home and store went unanswered Friday, and the store's voicemail was full. Geoffrey Spiess, attorney for the city of Mishawaka, said officials have no reason to take action on the issue because Barthel's work with South Bend Uniform is done as a private citizen in his off-duty hours.
— Erik Ortiz, with The Associated Press