Rice, a 12-year-old boy, died last month after he was shot by a Cleveland police officer who reportedly mistook his air gun for a real firearm. Crawford was shot and killed by police in August while holding an air rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart.
Hawkins said the No. 1 reason he wore the shirt was the thought of what happened to Rice happening to the receiver's two-year-old son, Austin.
"It 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," he said.
After Hawkins wore the shirt, Jeff Follmer, Police Patrolman Union president, sent newsnet5 in Cleveland a statement that called the display "pathetic" and said the Browns organization owes the Cleveland police an apology.
Hawkins responded to the union's statement on Monday.
"I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have, and also justice should be the goal of every American," Hawkins said on Monday. "... So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology. 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 kinds of officers should be offended at what I did."
Hawkins said his decision to wear the 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 reason to innocent people."
He said "99 out of 100" times, he keeps his opinions on matters to himself, and that he has worked hard to build and protect his reputation in Cleveland. But he also said his actions felt right, despite knowing he would be criticized by some.
"I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down, I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward. And I can’t live with that."
"I felt like my heart was in the right place, I’m at peace with it and those who disagree with me, this is America. That’s the point. Everyone has the right to their First Amendment rights. Those who support me, I appreciate your support. But at the same time, support the causes and the people and the injustices that you feel strongly about. Stand up for them, speak up for them, no matter what it is. Because that’s what America is about and that’s what this country was founded on."
Last week, Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi wore a shirt that read, "I Can't Breathe," during warmups before a game. Similar shirts have been worn by athletes across the country in protest of a grand jury's decision not to indict the New York police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Full video of Hawkins' remarks is below, courtesy of Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com:
- Molly Geary