Kobe Bryant joined several of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates in wearing custom print tees emblazoned with Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” which were uttered 11 times as Garner fell to the ground while being placed in a choke hold maneuver by Staten Island police that ultimately contributed to his death. Garner, who also had preexisting health conditions, was arrested for peddling loose cigarettes.
The Lakers players, who were the latest in a string of professional athletes and public figures, wore the custom designed tee shirts in solidarity with those protesting Garner’s death at the hands of police. The shirts were worn during a pregame warm up on Tuesday, December 9 against Sacramento Kings.
The tee shirts printed with Garner’s last words, along with the hashtag #icantbreathe, went viral, giving protesters a stronger voice. The shirts can be purchased at several online retailers such as eBay and Etsy, in addition to many brick-and-mortar custom digital t shirt printing services and companies across the country, many of which are nowhere near Staten Island.
For example, Ryan Guillot, owner of Vintage Fly Clothing in Louisiana, sold between 100 and 120 of the t shirts within two days. Advertised on Etsy, the idea for the shirt first came to Guillot while visiting with his family in Staten Island during Thanksgiving.
While the grand jury’s declination to not indict the officer responsible for placing Garner in chokehold had not been decided at that time, Guillot could sense the sensitivity surrounding the situation and felt compelled to create a shirt reflecting that after the verdict was made public.
Custom digital t shirt printing services have allowed protesters Garner’s case to raise awareness by using a simple — yet highly effective — design to reinforce their message against excessive force.