Andrew Hawkins

He’s the Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver who wore a t-shirt onto the field Sunday that read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.” Rice is the 12-year old killed recently by police when they were called to a park at which Rice was waving around a toy gun. Crawford is the man who was holding a BB gun he was presumably planning to purchase in a Wal-Mart when he was shot dead by police.

Following in the footsteps of some of their St. Louis brethren, Cleveland police condemned Hawkins:

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follmer, head of the Police Union, wrote in a statement to Cleveland WEWS-Channel 5. “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.”

It’s pretty pathetic to see such a thin-skinned response to a simple call for “justice.” Probably best for Jeff Follmer to stick to what he knows best, which clearly does not include speaking intelligently about whether policing the Browns’ stadium gives him *any* right to determine what kind of speech is and isn’t permissible inside that stadium.

For his part, Hawkins had very intelligent things to say about why he wore the shirt, including the following:

“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.”

To their credit, the Browns followed the Rams in refusing to apologize to the police:

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.

On his blog today, the perceptive writer Jamelle Bouie has a quote from philosopher Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract. It includes this excerpt, which seems apropos of the perception of reality Cleveland Police – as reflected in Follmer’s statement – want enforced:

The requirements of “objective” cognition, factual and moral, in a racial polity are in a sense more demanding in that officially sanctioned reality is divergent from actual reality. So here, it could be said, one has an agreement to misinterpret the world. One has to learn to see the world wrongly, but with the assurance that this set of mistaken perceptions will be validated by white epistemic authority, whether religious or secular. Thus in effect, on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.

In this inverted reality, the threat to society is a black man peaceably signaling his concern for justice. And the upholder of decency and right is a representative of the police essentially threatening with violence anyone who dares to question any actions by said police. Hawkins, like many of his athletic peers recently, is to be credited for taking on not only the issue itself but accepting with maturity and grace the ridiculously over-the-top criticisms that have followed.

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