Indiana Police Officer Asked To Stop Selling “Divisive” T-Shirts Saying “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break The Law.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 8.52.11 AMMishawaka Police officer Jason Barthel has been told to stop selling T-Shirt in his spare time. There is nothing illegal about the Indiana officer selling shirts, but these t-shirts say “Breathe easy, don’t break the law.” They are in direct response to t-shirts being worn in protest over the decision of a New York grand jury not to indict officers in the death of Eric Garner who died in Staten Island from a chokehold while saying that he could not breathe. “I Can’t Breathe” has become a rallying cry for those protesting police abuse of minorities. However, Barthel wants to sell a counter message that supports police. While there has been vandalism of stores selling the t-shirts, they reportedly remain high selling items.


Barthel owns a uniform store and came up with the slogan to, in his view, bring people together. (I am a little surprised that an officer can wear his uniform and badge for a private advertisement if that is indeed his Mishawaka uniform).

As noted today in another story involving unpopular speech by a paramedic, I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), here, here, students (here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a career in the adult entertainment industry (here).

Council_HDavisCouncil_VScheyCouncil_ODavis-1In this case, Barthel is selling a t-shirt in his private time that would clearly be protected as political speech in any other context. Police and their supporters have been wearing the shirts. In New York, they read “I Can Breathe. Thanks to the NYPD.” Yet, three South Bend city council members — South Bend City Council members Oliver Davis, Henry Davis Jr. and Valerie Schey— want him to stop, saying that it sends a “divisive message.” It is not clear if selling “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts would be deemed as divisive. That t-shirt has appeared at national sporting events and other occasions, including a recent basketball game at nearby Notre Dame. The point is that an effort to force Barthel to stop selling the shirts should be preceded by a content-neutral showing that the city has a yet to make this demand. Obviously, if these city council members are just asking for the change, there is nothing wrong with making such a suggestion. However, for a public employee, there is a risk of possible retaliation or discipline or even termination as we have seen in other cases.

To its credit, the city itself appears to view this as a private matter and not something for formal action.

78 thoughts on “Indiana Police Officer Asked To Stop Selling “Divisive” T-Shirts Saying “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break The Law.””

  1. this all has come about because the media has finally reported on some of these incidents. But, here’s the real facts a black male gets killed almost weekly in the black community either by some fool who doesn’t like his own reflection or by the THUGS IN BLUE, and I don’t mean some kid doing something stupid I mean a hard working slob just trying to make it past his life expectancyof 18.

  2. I mean come on folks who really cares about this guy and this dumb T-shirts it just inducates how he does his job, profiling.By the way who said that nonsense about Stop and Frisk being useful I guess you have not read the stats on this which says that 90% of the people (i.e. black males) have not comitted any crime what-so-ever.

  3. In my view, this gentleman should be entitled to do conduct whatever lawful business he cares to conduct in his spare time. However, he should not be wearing his uniform when he promotes the business because it suggests some sort of official recommendation for his products.

  4. The current tax base in most cities doesn’t reflect this fact.

    Ross, I’ve already pointed out to you that there are multiple levels of governments providing various public services to any one household, yet you continue to comment as if every government service is funded and provided solely by cities. You also seem unaware of the existence of state and federal grants to municipalities.

    It’s really hard for suburbs to fail even with bad management.

    This is utterly false. Note that this list of 20 cities that may face bankruptcy consists largely of suburban municipalities. Note also the role played by bad management; e.g. Wenatchee, WA, which is $42 million in debt thanks to its decision to build a multipurpose arena.

    There’s an entire book devoted to analyzing the reasons for the wide disparity in fiscal stability among 264 metro Chicago suburbs.

    A case study comparing Cleveland to its suburbs back in the ’70s–not, I think, a period of unusual urban buoyancy–concluded that

    suburban governments, even where tax bases are similar to each other, have demonstrated widely different expenditure priorities.

    clevelandmemory.org/cities/

    It also substantiates my point about the critical role of management quality in municipal outcomes:

    suburban governments have responded with greater speed and effectiveness to social change and economic deterior­ ation than has the City of Cleveland.

    While you view the ability of people to move from one local government to another w/o leaving the metro area as a problem to be solved by corralling them into a super government, in reality that ability to move is a great virtue. It puts a far more effective brake on municipal mismanagement than elections can do on their own. Localities that offer poor value for the tax dollar lose residents to those that perform well. Equally importantly, having multiple independent jurisdictions allows people with different preferences for public services to locate in places that offer the mix they prefer.

    The mega-city of your dreams would be a dystopia, unresponsive to a citizenry with a highly circumscribed ability to vote with its feet.

  5. Chip S:

    The U.S. Constitution requires equal opportunity and equal justice under law for government institutions – including public schools. There is a great non-partisan documentary “Waiting on Superman” that addresses the problems very clearly.

    Your point is wrong, the truth is most wealthy suburbs outside of large cities are only wealthy due to their proximity to the city. It’s really hard for suburbs to fail even with bad management.

    Most major cities in the USA are located near a major transportation infrastructure for commerce – it could manmade (railroad) or a geographic feature (fall-line of a major river that ships can travel).

    Support businesses in the suburb would not exist without the major transportation infrastructure of the large city. This is how every city was created and what creates secondary support industries. The current tax base in most cities doesn’t reflect this fact.

  6. Charlie, Have you considered the OBVIOUS fact that you did not have the adult male relationship w/ these young men. You were a PEER. To say that ANY male, who grew up w/o a father, has issues w/ adult men, is not bigoted. I have been a peer, I have been a coach, I have been an inner city juvenile probation officer, and I have been a teacher. Over my lifetime I have seen illegitimacy rates grow from 18% when I was born in the 50’s to 72% now. Are you claiming if a culture has 72% of their children born to a single parent home there are no ramifications?? I don’t have a bigoted bone in my body. I have some things I could say about your ad hominem toward me, but I’ll just say, Merry Christmas, Charlie.

  7. Nick,

    I don’t get it…”black males raised w/o fathers have SERIOUS issues complying w/ orders from adult males.” What?!? Are you implying that I don’t have this “SERIOUS issue” because of lower levels of pigment in my skin?

    Also, as a point of FACT, I grew up along side MANY “black males raised w/o fathers” and NONE of them fits into your seemingly bigoted view of this race-gender-parental role model human.

  8. Justice Holmes – ‘any infraction of the law can be punished on site by an execution no trial necessary’

    Does this apply to drone strikes?

  9. on 1, December 22, 2014 at 5:10 pmRoss
    Community policing is hiring more cops for more street corners – not buying tanks and military equipment.

    ****************************

    Alicia, were you attributing your quote to TrooperYork? If so, it actually was from Ross.

  10. The 2 cops in Brooklyn were a community policing assignment. Law abiding citizens living in the adjacent housing project needed protection, That post was manned 24/7. A local resident was tearful saying those cops gave him comfort when he walked his kids to school daily.

  11. “Community policing is hiring more cops for more street corners – not buying tanks and military equipment.”

    Thank you Trooperyork for the above (yes!) and your insights posted here.

    Interesting tee shirt topic and interesting comments. G’night all.

  12. Ross said…Part of it is a dysfunctional tax base.

    This is a multifaceted error.

    First, “inner-city neighborhoods” receive funds from the entire city they’re in, not from taxes collected from residents or employers in those neighborhoods.

    Second, NYC is probably the worst possible example of a city w/ a “dysfunctional” tax base, levying both city-specific personal and corporate income taxes on the many corps and wolves of Wall St. who call it home.

    Third, lots of metro areas in lots of states already have multiple tax jurisdictions. Frequently water districts and school districts cross city boundaries, and some localities impose income taxes on nonresidents who work within their borders.

    A city that’s well-run, offering reliable services and schools to its residents, will have an ample tax base. A kleptocratic city that imposes high taxes while delivering crappy public services will chase workers and employers to the suburbs.

  13. The abandoned neighborhoods will never be saved until you arrest the knuckleheads who burn down the businesses and employment opportunities in their neighborhood.

    Witness Ferguson.

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