- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Jason Barthel, a Mishawaka police officer and local business owner, was growing frustrated with the use of “I can’t breathe” as a form of protest against perceived police brutality.

Then, seeing the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team don shirts displaying the phrase at a game Saturday, he told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/138VuEw ), was a slap in the face for law enforcement. So he’s selling shirts of his own.

“Breathe easy, don’t break the law.”

That’s the slogan Barthel, owner of South Bend Uniform, is hoping will stop what he sees as negative stereotypes of police, while also improving race relations across the country.

“I can’t breathe” were the final words of Eric Garner, who died in July after he was put in a choke hold by New York City police, one of a series of high-profile cases involving police and African-Americans.

Focusing on the recent cases overshadows the good, untold work that police officers do, Barthel said. The goal of his phrase, he said, is for people to understand that they won’t have issues with police if they don’t get into a bad situation.

“The problem is we have a lot of people who are trying to create problems between the citizens and the people who try to protect them,” Barthel said. “When you break the law, unfortunately there’s going to be consequences, and some of them aren’t going to be pretty. Unfortunately that’s the reality.”

Chris Heick was in South Bend Uniform on Monday ordering two “Breathe easy” shirts. He said he wanted the shirts as a way to support law enforcement. Heick said he, too, was offended by the women’s basketball team’s display, especially since it came on the 11-year anniversary of the killing of two Mishawaka police officers.

Someone has to tell both sides of the story, Heick said, and the shirts do that.

Taya Reimer, the sophomore basketball player whose idea it was to wear the shirts, said after Saturday’s game that the team wasn’t trying to deliver an anti-law enforcement message.

“We thought wearing these shirts for the game would be a cool way for us to show our support, give our condolences to all the families who have lost someone,” Reimer said.

But Barthel argues that slogans like “I can’t breathe” are only aggravating racial tensions. His shirts are being sold at South Bend Uniform on Mishawaka Avenue starting at $7.95.

“My goal is to create a new brand,” Barthel said, “and that brand is going to continue to evolve into a sense of bringing people together.”

___

Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com


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