Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins says he should not have to apologize for wearing a T-shirt that called for "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford," two Ohio victims of recent police killings.
Hawkins' shirt, which he sported while walking onto the field before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, spurred ire from the head of the Cleveland Police Union, who called the statement "pathetic" and demanded an apology from the Browns organization.
"I have a 2-year-old little boy," Hawkins said during a passionate press interview on Monday. "That little boy is my entire world. The number one 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."
A Cleveland police killed the 12-year-old Rice in November as he was carrying an air gun in a public park; the coroner has ruled his death a homicide. Crawford, a father of two, was shot and killed in August by a local police officer in a Walmart in Beavercreek while holding a BB gun. In both instances, the officers had allegedly perceived the guns were real rifles.
"My heart was broken for the parents of Tamir [Rice] and John Crawford, knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality," he continued, adding that he "made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt."
Responding more directly to the police criticisms, Hawkins said: "My wearing of the T-shirt wasn't a stance against every police officer or every police department [...] My wearing of the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason to innocent people."
He added that justice is "a right that every American should have, and also justice should be the goal for every American."
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"Ultimately," he said, "it means fair treatment."
You can watch the entire press statement below.
Hawkins' statement has followed similar actions from a number of professional athletes, who have also voiced solidarity with the growing outrage over police violence against black people and what is seen as a broken system of justice in the United States.
Following the police backlash, the Browns released a statement saying the team "respect[s] our players' rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner."
On Tuesday, Crawford's family filed suit against Walmart arguing that the retail giant was at fault for Crawford's killing because the store had left the BB gun, which resembles a rifle, unlocked and easily accessible.