Hoosier police officer defends ‘Breathe Easy’ shirts

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Dec. 17, 2014) -- An Indiana police officer defended the t-shirts he created that read "Breathe Easy," as they were thrust into the national spotlight this week.

The shirts, which have been offered for sale by the South Bend Uniform Company for a few days, quickly went viral. The company is owned by Corp. Jason Barthel, who made the shirts in response to the "I Can't Breathe" shirts worn by many, including the Notre Dame women's basketball team, following the case of Eric Garner.

"We are not here to do anything negative to the public. We're here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you," Barthel said.

The shirt comes just weeks after a grand jury decided not to indict a New York City police officer for the death of Eric Garner, after he was held in a chokehold and caught on video saying "I can't breathe" before he died.

That phrase became a mantra for protesters, including those in Indianapolis.

FOX59 took a photo of the shirt to Monument Circle to see what Hoosiers thought of it.

Reactions were mixed, with some like Tracy Tanks saying they could see the officer's side.

"It is a statement, you know, (that) you have to respect law enforcement at any given time. ... I'm very much okay with that," Tanks said.

Many others, though, said they didn't agree with it.

"Making a social media 'one up' on this case is just, it's disgusting. ... I would not support this t-shirt," Andrew Troemner said.

"That's kind of applying blame unfairly on Eric Garner and other people, other cases like that," Ibrahim Khan said.

According to Fox News, a few city councilors in South Bend have asked Barthel to stop producing the shirts. So far he has not publicly responded.

In a Facebook post, Barthel defended the shirts:

"For those upset, please understand when we use the slogan "Breathe Easy" we are referring to knowing the police are there for you! We are one people, one nation regardless of race, religion, creed or gender. We are all in this together. The police are here to protect and serve. 99.9% of us have the greater good in our hearts each time we strap on our uniforms and duty belts. We are all one people and this is by no means is a slam on Eric Garner or his family, God rest his soul. Lets all band together as AMERICANS regardless of our feelings and know we can and will be better! Thank you for your support."