Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins set the both the sports and political worlds abuzz Sunday when he came out onto his home field for pre-game warmups wearing a black t-shirt with a simple message: "Justice For Tamir Rice and John Crawford III." It was a statement that resonated with countless people, while upsetting some predictable folks — Jeff Follmer, the head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, called the gesture "pathetic" and demanded an apology. Now, Andrew Hawkins has the perfect response to his critics, which he offered to Cleveland.com via a video Tuesday.
Suffice to say, maybe the most appropriate and telling rebuttal to Follmer's highly condescending words about Hawkins — he said "It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law," and "They should stick to what they know best on the field" — is just how cogent and incisive Hawkins' reply proved to be. Clearly, Follmer thought he could get away with casually denigrating athletes with activist instincts as chronically uninformed meatheads, but Hawkins laid that fallacy bare in his eloquent explanation. Fortunately, the whole thing is on video, so we get to see it — in particular, Hawkins' words about his two-year-old son Austin are extremely moving.
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.
For some vital background, both John Crawford III and Tamir Rice (the latter just a 12-year-old boy) were fatally shot by police in Ohio after having 911 calls placed on them because they were carrying airsoft pellet guns. In both cases, police arrived on the scene, and no more than two or three seconds elapsed before they opened fire — in Crawford's case in the aisle of a Walmart where he'd picked up the unpackaged pellet gun off a shelf, and in Rice's case, in a public park in Cleveland.
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.
Appearing on MSNBC's All-In Monday night, Follmer gave his own accounting of the Rice shooting — he insisted that the police's actions were "justified," on the grounds that Rice apparently posed a "lethal threat" to the two officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Gramback. Follmer specifically referred to the surveillance footage of the shooting as exonerating, but countless observers have viewed it as anything but.
It's unknown why, for example, the officers pulled up within feet of Rice, rather than parking further away, taking cover and issuing an order to drop the fake gun. The video also displays overt misstatements in the initial police account of the shooting, as the CPD claimed that Rice was with others when he was actually alone, and that officers Loehmann and Gramback told him to drop the pellet gun three times before opening fire — difficult to believe, given that Rice was shot within two seconds.
Hawkins made it clear that in spite of the concern over his career and reputation, the fear he felt for his own son weighed into his decision to take a stand.
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.
Hawkins concluded his remarks with a plea that anyone who feel strongly about injustice in America should speak out about it.
... 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.
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