Here’s the Truth About “Breathe Easy”

It is election season, and my political opponent has been exposed by our local newspaper today for extreme anti-law enforcement statements. As a result, I find that I am once again under attack for a social media post that went viral in 2014.  I provide this post here, to again, provide an explanation for what happened:

1) In late 2014, some very violent protesters began calling for the harassment, attack, and in some cases, execution of cops. As you may recall, some members of law enforcement were subsequently killed.

2) Members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors stood during a government meeting, unbuttoned their dress shirts, and displayed “I can’t breathe” shirts. They made repeated “I can’t breathe because…” statements. They said they would come to every future meeting wearing the shirts until law enforcement met their demands. While I felt that there are things we need to work to change in our society to reduce racism and racial tensions, they spoke in a way that was near, if not outright, anti-law enforcement. No one stood up for law enforcement or even wanted to have a multi-sided discussion about it.

3) Believing that this would be a recurring event, I resolved to come to the next meeting and meet them wearing my own shirt showing support for law-enforcement. I searched for a shirt that would counter their message of constant condemnation and found one online that displayed a blue line and read “Breathe Easy – Don’t Break the Law!” It was produced by a company that gave money to benefit a police department. Because it was just before the holidays, a time when we should generally buy for others and not ourselves, when I shared news of my purchase on Twitter, I said, “Well, I broke down and bought myself a present – a “Breathe Easy – Don’t Break the Law” T-shirt.”

4) Activists erupted attacking me and calling me “racist” for the post. The post went viral with angry activists. They sent me and my family death threats. This didn’t make any sense until a friend that is a Milwaukee grassroots community activist explained to me the nuances of the Eric Garner story, which I was not that familiar with. When I came to understand that the term “Breathe Easy” was seen by some people as if it signaled support for killing black people because it related to Garner’s words that he couldn’t breathe while he was dying in police custody, was shocked and I removed the post and destroyed the shirt. I learned that Twitter does not offer context, and that my quick comment had been taken very far out of the context for which it was intended. I later went on the Sherwin Hughes radio show on WNOV in Milwaukee and explained the situation and publicly apologized for the post. This was years ago, I regretted it at the time it occurred when I realized the meaning people read into the post, and I admitted wrong at the time and asked for forgiveness for my error.  I continue that humility today in asking for conversation and understanding while still shielding myself and my family from harassment and threats.

5) To anyone who was not aware of my prior apology from several years ago, I now reiterate my sincere apology:

I strive to have integrity and that means admitting when I am wrong. I am sorry for posting the T-shirt description back in 2014 without providing the context that would have helped us all understand each other better.  I did not realize the meaning that people would derive from my statement at the time and am truly sorry for the mistake.  To those who have counseled me or found it within themselves to forgive, I am grateful for your civility in teaching me rather than condemning me.

Sincerely, Deanna Alexander