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Je suis ND women’s basketball

| Friday, January 23, 2015

Notre Dame women’s basketball forward Taya Reimer launched a moral benchmark for her team by convincing the Irish to don “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirts during a game in mid-December. The gesture was intended to show support for the family of Eric Garner, a Brooklyn man who gasped that he could not breathe before he died in July after a New York City police officer placed him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him. The team wore their shirts a week after protests erupted in New York when a grand jury refused to indict the officer involved with Garner.

If Reimer’s effort ends with that one poignant moment, then she and the women’s team have failed to stand solidly on their social principles. The sophomore indicated that her inspiration arose after witnessing a “die-in” demonstration on campus — dramatizations intended to vividly convey recent incidents of alleged police brutality nationwide. While some participate to call attention to what they believe are pervasive and indistinguishable abuses throughout all of law enforcement, others participate to express support for the people who face prejudice, racism and police brutality daily in our nation.

Notre Dame was the first women’s basketball team in the nation to join a growing list of both amateur and professional teams wearing similar shirts to express a social statement while standing in solidarity for equity, restraint, compassion and justice. Importantly, Reimer’s own words quoted in USA Today describe her gesture not as anti-law enforcement. “A few of us talked about it,” she said, “and we thought wearing these shirts for the game would be a cool way to show our support and give our condolences to families that have lost someone.”

For that exact reason Reimer and the team must also express strong support for NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu who were assassinated as pay back for Garner’s death while sitting in a marked patrol car in Brooklyn. Their assassin, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, in his own warped way also protested excessive police force by arbitrarily slaying two men wearing police uniforms — men faithfully dedicated to their families and to the welfare of the public. Reimer and the team must universally commit to constantly stand in solidarity for equity, restraint, compassion and justice.

I applaud but strenuously caution Reimer and the team going forward. For their civil voices to be one and done on the matter makes their previous effort look merely like a stunt regardless of how genuine their intentions. Respect and justice are not values upon which to bestow selectively and with whimsy. Therefore, at an upcoming game the team should wear warm-ups bearing some manner of slogan demonstrating that mindless revenge is not an American value — or the Christian character Notre Dame is well known for living by example. Their shirt slogan should honor life and the rule of law all of us must follow — something in the vein of “Blue Lives Matter” or “Remember Slain NYPD.”

Like the ND women, but on a larger collect scale, the French citizenry recently embarked on publicly establishing their own moral yardstick after 12 people were massacred early this month at the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Coining the slogan, “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” they stood up against a senseless ideology of murder conjured by Muslim extremists who attempt to force their twisted brand of justice through acts of terrorism — in this instance in response to their prophet Mohammed appearing in a cartoon. Ironically, the Islamic extremists gunned down a Muslim police officer along with 11 newspaper employees.

More than 3 million people paid tribute to the victims by marching through Paris while grieving for those dozen killed, and by extension, expressing support of freedom of speech and resistance to armed threats or violence. Social media sentiment exploded globally. The “I am Charlie” slogan adopted by supporters became an international icon.

In late December on the day Officers Ramos and Liu were killed, my email exploded when one of my more politically conservative college classmates in New Jersey took offense to the Notre Dame women basketball team’s decision to wear the warm-ups the previous week. His blast email to us former Lyons Hall residents criticized the “liberal” Notre Dame administration — hardly a label us real liberal Catholics would ever use to describe the ND leadership style. But another classmate, originally from Ohio, reminded us of how committed and excited we were while students on campus during our unified outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.

Moving forward, Reimer and the team need to be cognizant of how enduring and how steady their commitments must remain. Anyone from my generation knows that in our youth we count our achievements one at a time, but as we age and accomplish more, we count them in lots of dozens. Once Reimer and the team exercised their civic speech and civic participation on a national scale, they are required to become Charlie in support of all who suffer senseless sacrifices.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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