On July 17th, Eric Garner was suspected by New York Police Department officer Justin Damico of selling loose cigarettes from packs without a tax stamp. Most members of society would agree this minor offense is something that police should not be enforcing with much enthusiasm, but Officer Damico decided to detain Garner after he asked repeatedly to stop being harassed. At this point, Officer Daniel Pantaleo approached Garner from behind and wrestled him to the ground into a prone position after repeatedly wrenching Garner’s neck with a headlock or choke hold.
The technique used is now heavily debated, but Garner died one an hour later from injuries suffered on the concrete sidewalk of his Staten Island neighborhood. He suffered for minutes on the pavement while officers failed to administer even basic first aid for a distressed breathing victim. Officer Pantaleo strolled around the sidewalk in the background for several minutes while other officers searched Garners pockets, waiting for paramedics to arrive. CPR was not started for at least 7 minutes following the incident and four EMTs that responded to the scene were suspended shortly after the incident.
Protests in New York City began almost immediately with Broadway actors protesting in Times Square. Damico and Pantaleo were placed on desk duty and Pantaleo was later forced to turn in his badge and gun. A grand jury was convened to hear evidence to determine whether Officer Pantaleo would be charged with a crime. Despite the death being ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner, Pantaleo was not indicted with any crime on December 3rd. This lack of indictment sparked outrage across the nation, prompting protests on the heels of the Michael Brown grand jury acquittal, and leading to many Americans asking questions about the actions of police officers. Many athletes joined the debate to make their support for Eric Garner known over the past week. Here are some of those athletes:
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15 Amar’e Stoudemire
When protesters took to the street for the second straight night last week, Amar'e Stoudemire was in the Knicks locker room answering questions about basketball. Stoudemire has spoken out on similar cases in the past, such as the Trayon Martin case, and did not hold back. Stoudemire said “I'm pretty upset that I'm not protesting right now with the rest of the guys out there in New York. I think it's something that's -- it's very alarming in our country as far as that's concerned. We have to be more conscientious of what the law enforcement's job is, and that's to protect and serve.”
14 Deon Long
Deon Long is a wide receiver for the University of Maryland Terrapins. The senior receiver participated in a student protest outside the Xfinity Center, which was hosting a basketball game between Maryland and Virginia. Long stood out from the crowd by holding a sign which read “Are we still “THUGS” when you pay to watch us play sports? #BlackLivesMatter.” The former five-star recruit had his poignant message retweeted thousands of times as he contributed to the ongoing dialogue online.
13 Davin Joseph
Davin Joseph participated in the Eric Garner protests by writing “I can’t breathe” on his cleats before his game for the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. He tweeted a picture of the cleats along with the message “R.I.P. Eric Garner” prior to their game against Washington. Joseph’s message was retweeted hundreds of times and comes just one week after his teammates walked out of the tunnel with their hands up in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protest.
12 Johnson Bademosi
During the warmups of Johnson Bademosi’s game with the Cleveland Browns against the Indianapolis Colts, Johnson wore a white NFL equipment shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” written on it in sharpie. He followed it up by writing a very insightful piece titled “Why I Wore the Shirt” for the Monday Morning Quarterback on Wednesday to explain his reasoning. It is certainly worth the read as he points out, “The NFL tells us to wear pink for these games and camouflage for these, yet when players have tried to distinguish themselves they’ve faced fines for doing so.”
11 Sheldon Richardson
The New York Jets’ Sheldon Richardson is angry about the Eric Garner verdict and did not hold back his emotions on the subject. After growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Richardson expressed his anger with the Mike Brown case and Darren Wilson acquittal. He expressed his further dissatisfaction over the two cases by saying, “It just happened in New York, too, so it's not just in St. Louis. It's getting where it's pretty bad everywhere now. So much for the justice system.”
10 Melvin Ingram
Melvin Ingram went a different route than the black and white comic sans “I can’t breathe” shirt that has been donned by other athletes. Ingram wore a black shirt with the words painted in blue and gold, to match his Chargers uniform. It was a nice individual touch for the tribute to Eric Garner.
9 Kevin Garnett
Prior to Monday night’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett joined some of his teammates and rapper/mogul Jay-Z at center court to take a picture in support of Eric Garner. Garnett even managed to crack a smile while standing with his arms folded next to the much shorter Hova.
8 Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving wore the comic sans black “I can’t breathe” t-shirt during warmups of Cleveland Cavaliers game against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday Night. The shirt was first spotted and photographed by Howard Beck, whose photo of Kyrie in the shirt has been retweeted over 600 times.
7 Georgetown Hoyas
Before the Georgetown Hoyas tipped off their game against the #10 Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday night, the entire team lined up for the national anthem in “I can’t breathe” shirts. The Hoyas didn’t win their matchup with the Jayhawks, but they still managed to convey their sympathies for the families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin. D’Vauntes Smith-Riveira said, “We wanted to represent those families that all lost. It wasn't just for this one scenario for a lot of people who know just this one case, I just think we wanted to represent the families and send our condolences that way.”
6 Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush appeared in warmups before his game on Sunday wearing a blue Detroit Lions shirt with “I can’t breathe” written in sharpie. Bush said the decision to wear the shirt was not easy and expressed that his opinion was coming from an interesting background: “Everybody should have their own opinions, and everybody’s entitled to their opinions and how they feel about the situation and about what’s going on, and for me, I felt like this was my way of protesting peacefully, and this is coming from the son of a police officer. My mother’s been a police officer for 20 years now.”
5 Deron Williams
Deron Williams participated in the Brooklyn Nets protest by wearing a black and white “I can’t breathe” shirt during warm ups of their Monday Night game. Williams received his shirt from Justice League NYC and stood next to Jay-Z to pose for a picture. The Nets made sure to wear the protests when hundreds of additional media were in attendance to cover the visit from the future King of England.
4 Jim Caldwell
Jim Caldwell stood by Reggie Bush’s decision to wear an “I can’t breathe” shirt and then added a little bit of historical context into the debate. Caldwell said, “I believe in it, I'd be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently because more than likely some of those protests that Dr. King and some of the others that took part in, non-violent protests, is the reason why I'm standing in front of you today. Absolutely, no question about it, I don't mind it.”
3 Kobe Bryant and the Lakers
Kobe Bryant and his Lakers teammates took the court before their win over the Sacramento Kings wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts. Every Lakers player except backup center Robert Sacre wore the shirts. Bryant said, “I think the beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for the things that we believe in, I think we really lose the value that our country stands for.” He went on to say, “It's important that we have our opinions. It's important that we stand up for what we believe in and we all don't have to agree with it and it's completely fine. That's what makes this a beautiful country.”
2 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose was one of the first NBA players to don the “I can’t breathe” shirt during warm ups. Rose spoke to the media regarding the decision after the game and had his opinion supported by Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. During his interview with CBS Sports he said, “I'm just happy that people paid attention to it, I think it touched a lot of people because I grew up in an impoverished area like that, and that stuff happens a lot of times. It touched a lot of people and I wanted to make sure I got my point across.”
1 LeBron James
LeBron James chose the perfect opportunity to wear an “I can’t breathe” shirt in full attention of the international media in attendance for his game against the Brooklyn Nets. James wore the shirt during the visit of Prince William and his wife Kate, taking advantage of the extra media in attendance. When asked about the protest he said, “It's just for us to make a [statement] to understand what we're going through as a society, I've been quoted over and over about what's going on as far as it's more of a notion to the family, more than anything. Obviously, as a society we have to do better. We have to be better for one another. It doesn't matter what race you are.”
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