Like a great many of us in this country, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was more than a bit disturbed about the recent deaths of Black Americans by police, most notably the shooting deaths of Tamir Rice and John Crawford in Ohio.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed last month after a Cleveland police officer shot him when he mistook the boy's toy gun for a real weapon, while twenty-two-year-old John Crawford was shot and killed by police last August while holding an air rifle inside Wal-Mart.
So, one day, during a pre-game warm-up, Hawkins appeared on the field wearing a "Justice for Tamir Rice And John Crawford III" and now the Cleveland Police Patrolman Union, in a statement released by its President, Jeff Follmer, has demanded that Hawkins apologize:
"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."
The Browns organization issued their own statement, saying that the team respects both the work of the Cleveland police department and their own players' right to protest:
"We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city. We also respect our players' rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner."
And now, Hawkins has explained why he wore the shirt, and what those two senseless deaths meant to him:
“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. 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.
“To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement. I have family, close friends that are incredible police officers and I tell them all the time how they are much braver than me for it. So my wearing a T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.
“Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences. Those are the police officers that should be offended.
“Being a police officer takes bravery. And I understand that they’re put in difficult positions and have to make those snap decisions. As a football player, I know a little bit about snap decisions, obviously on an extremely lesser and non-comparative scale, because when a police officer makes a snap decision, it’s literally a matter of life and death. That’s hard a situation to be in. But if the wrong decision is made, based on pre-conceived notions or the wrong motives, I believe there should be consequence. Because without consequence, naturally the magnitude of the snap decisions is lessened, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“I’m not an activist, in any way, shape or form. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I keep my opinions to myself on most matters. I worked extremely hard to build and keep my reputation especially here in Ohio, and by most accounts I’ve done a solid job of decently building a good name. Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward, and I can’t live with that. God wouldn’t be able to put me where I am today, as far as I’ve come in life, if I was a coward.
“As you well know, and it’s well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy. The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality.
“So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt like my heart was in the right place. I’m at peace with it and those that disagree with me, this is America, everyone has the right to their first amendment rights. Those who support me, I appreciate your support. But at the same time, support the causes and the people and the injustices that you feel strongly about. Stand up for them. Speak up for them. No matter what it is because that’s what America’s about and that’s what this country was founded on.”
We have a long way to go on the topic of race in this country, but we’ll never even come close if we don’t allow the dialogue, if we don’t allow the protest, the non-violent protest, without demanding apologies.
Two young men were senselessly killed by police in Ohio, and one man expressed his need for justice. How is that something for which you should apologize?
Sidenote: This is just me, but I cannot help but think that if Tamir Rice and John Crawford had been white, and shot and killed by police, and then we saw Tom Brady take to the field in a "Justice for Tamir and John" shirt, that no one, no one, would be demanding he apologize.
And that's just another reason we need to keep the conversation going.