The South Bend Uniform Co., is a police outfitter owned and operated by a member of the Mishawaka Police Department, so it’s understandable why the company would show its support of law enforcement officers. The means of showing that support, however, is somewhat provocative: they are selling t-shirts with the design shown above. This is obviously in response to the #ICantBreathe hashtag campaign on Twitter that emerged following the death of Eric Garner, and the subsequent announcement that his killer would not face a grand jury indictment.
This story also highlights the fact that both sides of the debate are right (depending on the circumstances). Those that support law enforcement rightly point out that a police officer’s daily job is difficult and dangerous and there are plenty of men and women within their ranks who are capable of heroic deeds. On the other side of that coin, however, there are also plenty of officers who dishonor themselves and abuse their authority, overstepping their bounds and making headlines. Sometimes, a suspect does something that warrants the use of force, even lethal force, and sometimes a cop is just having a bad day and overreacts to a situation and innocent people wind up dead. We should all be able to agree that these are not the only two outcomes, there are plenty of cases in between.
Sometimes, there are those that will confront a police officer when they believe that they have done nothing wrong, or when they believe that a cop has violated their rights. We should all be able to agree that this is reasonable and should not always result in an escalation of the use of force. We should all be able to agree that Rosa Parks, for example, was within her rights to ignore an unjust law (if you don’t agree, you’re a racist bigot, by the way), so we can all further agree that there are higher standards, beyond what an elected legislature decides to write down on paper. What if Rosa Parks had been assaulted by police and put in a chokehold, and left unresponsive on the floor of that bus? Would the people who are sporting these fancy new black t-shirts still be lining up to show support for those officers? (If they would, they are also racist bigots, by the way.)
Whether you agree that Eric Garner was taking a stand against an unjust law or not, you should be able to agree that we don’t want our law enforcement officers to be judge and jury in these cases. It’s time for us all to take a breath and accept one simple fact: while defending and maintaining the rule of law is certainly important, it is not an absolute principle that justifies any means to that end. Sometimes the law is wrong, and those that choose to enforce it are wrong in doing so. If we can all agree on this, we can *all* breathe a little easier.