Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins said he won't apologize for publicly demanding justice be sought in the cases of two African-Americans killed by police in Ohio this year.
During pre-grame warm-ups on Sunday, Hawkins dressed in a shirt that read, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III” on the front, and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back. Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy, was shot by officer Timothy Loehmann outside of a recreation center in Cleveland on Nov. 22 for holding what was later determined to be a toy “airsoft” gun. Crawford, 22, also was fatally shot by police for carrying a toy gun inside an Ohio Wal-Mart in August.
While addressing the media in the locker room on Monday afternoon, Hawkins said he was taught that every American deserves justice.
"To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology," he said.
Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, on Sunday said that Hawkins’ shirt was disrespectful, and demanded an apology from the football team. “It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field," he said.
The Browns responded, saying that management respects both the Cleveland Police Department and NFL players’ right to support certain causes.
Hawkins admitted to being scared of the backlash he expected from wearing the shirt because he typically keeps his opinions to himself. The football player said his 2-year-old son influenced his decision.
Hawkins was the most recent professional athlete to show his support for an African-American killed by police. He joined Johnson Bademosi, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Reggie Bush, who also called attention to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by officers this year.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson last Thursday acknowledged that the city’s police force has issues, following the conclusion of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found “reasonable cause” to believe the department routinely has used excessive force in past high-profile incidents.