After numerous protestors, athletes, and celebrities have been seen wearing T-Shirts exclaiming, “I can’t breathe!” in protest of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, South Bend Uniform Company decided to make a statement of their own: “Breathe easy – Don’t Break the Law.”
No mention was made of the “I can’t breathe!” t-shirts as being anything other than a protestors right to free expression, but when the South Bend Uniform Company’s T-Shirt hit the scene, officials claimed the t-shirt was “divisive.”
South Bend City Council members Oliver Davis, Henry Davis Jr., and Valerie Schey said in a statement on Tuesday, “Unfortunately, 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 the community.”
South Bend Uniform Company is owned by Mishawaka Police Corporal Jason Barthel. He sells clothing and equipment that helps public servants do their job best. His own experience allows him to sell only those items that he personally would use, and it seems to be working for this 2013 startup. Since their opening, the company has had over $64k in sales.
Commenters on social media outcry the hypocrisy of trying to stop the free expression of those who agree with the t-shirt’s sentiment, while there has been no attempt to stop the sale of “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts by anyone. In the end, are not both messages “divisive”? In any case, the t-shirts fall under our rights of free expression and free speech.
The attorney for the city of Mishawaka says the city cannot take action against the South Bend Uniform Company or Corporal Barthel because his work is being done as a private citizen outside of his duty hours. Again, social media is predicting some type of indirect manipulation that will force Barthel to discontinue the t-shirts, and perhaps even find a way to dismiss him of his duties as a police officer.
Barthel defended the statement on Monday on his store’s Facebook page stating, “For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan ‘Breath Easy’ we are referring to knowing the police are there for you!” The t-shirt is being sold for only $7.95 and an unconfirmed source states that any profits are being donated to charity.
The Mishawaka Police Department has refused to comment and is referring any inquiries to South Bend Uniform Company instead.