Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins won't apologize for wearing a T-shirt calling for justice for two unarmed African Americans killed by police officers in Ohio in 2014. And he delivered an impassioned explanation of why he shouldn't have to.
“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have," Hawkins said on Monday, getting emotional as he addressed reporters for several minutes without notes. "Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that's what makes this country special. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn't offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn't warrant an apology."
Hawkins, 28, took the field for the Browns' game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in Cleveland wearing a shirt emblazoned with the message "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III" on the front and "The Real Battle for Ohio" on the back. Rice, 12, was fatally shot by Cleveland police in November while carrying a pellet gun. Crawford, 22, was shot and killed by police in August while holding an air rifle in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Hawkins' awareness-raising gesture came with professional and college athletes across the country making similar statements related to the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Cleveland Patrolmen's Association President Jeffrey Follmer criticized Hawkins in a statement released on Sunday.
"It's pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law," Follmer said. "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."
The Browns refused to apologize, issuing a statement that both backed Hawkins and expressed support for police.
"We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city," the Browns said in a statement, via Cleveland.com. "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."
In his own comments on Monday, Hawkins also made clear that he was not taking a stand against all police officers.
"To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way," Hawkins said. "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 who 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."
In perhaps the most poignant moment of his monologue, Hawkins revealed the very personal reason that he choose to take a stand with his T-shirt even though he was aware that he would likely face backlash.
"As you well know, and it's well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy," Hawkins said. "The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 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. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality. So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt my heart was in the right place. I'm at peace with it."
Hawkins' poignant commentary did not sway Follmer.
"It's not a call for justice, they were justified," Follmer said during an interview on MSNBC Monday evening after Hawkins' remarks. "Cleveland police officers work with the Cleveland Browns hand-in-hand, and when he disrespects two of our police officers, he disrespects everybody else."