The president of the police union in Cleveland, Ohio, said over the weekend the "Justice for Tamir Rice" shirt worn by football player Andrew Hawkins was "pathetic."
Hawkins, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, 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, during pre-game warm-ups on Sunday. Twelve-year-old Rice was shot by police outside of a recreation center in Cleveland on Nov. 22 for holding what was later determined to be a toy "airsoft" gun. Crawford, 22, was fatally shot by police for carrying a toy gun inside an Ohio Wal-Mart in August.
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Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, reportedly 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. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology," Follmer wrote to a local ABC News affiliate. The police union didn't immediately respond to msnbc's request for comment.
The Browns responded, saying that management respects both the Cleveland Police Department and NFL players' rights to support certain causes.
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.
Hawkins was the most recent professional athlete to call attention to the recent police killings of unarmed black men. Teammate and cornerback Johnson Bademosi recently practiced in a T-shirt that read: "I can't breathe." Protesters around the country have spoken the three-word phrase in memory of Eric Garner, who was killed in July from an apparent chokehold by a white police officer. Earlier this month, Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose and Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush stepped onto the court and field respectively wearing T-shirts with the same words. And St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Davin Joseph wore cleats with the phrase written on them.
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Rice was fatally shot by rookie officer Timothy Loehmann outside of the Cudell Recreation Center. He died early the next day at MetroHealth Medical Center. Surveillance video depicted Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, shooting the boy within seconds of arriving at the scene. Loehmann, who had joined the Cleveland police force in March and was sworn in as a full-time officer in August, was deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty in a previous small-town police job.
The autopsy report for Rice, released last week, showed the boy died from a single gunshot wound to the torso that struck a major blood vessel in his abdomen, and injured his intestines and pelvis. The Rice family and its attorneys have demanded a trial by jury for the officer, instead of leaving the decision to the grand jury that is set to convene when an internal police review concludes by February 2015. His mother, Samaria, publicly demanded a conviction for Loehmann.
Other recent killings by officers have renewed a national conversation about community policing and law enforcement policies. A grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, last month decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in New York City, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the country for the "Justice for All" march. They shouted, "I can't breathe" and "Black lives matter." Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, called for the march following the Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death on Staten Island.