01:32 - Source: CNN
Browns' player protests Tamir Rice death

Story highlights

Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins wears a protest T-shirt before game

Hawkins' shirt read "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III"

Tamir Rice, 12, and John Crawford III, 22, were both shot dead by police officers

Cleveland police association says players "should stick to what they do best"

CNN  — 

Cleveland police have slammed Cleveland Browns player Andrew Hawkins for wearing a T-shirt calling for justice in the police shooting of Tamir Rice during a warm-up before Sunday’s NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Browns receiver’s shirt read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III” when he walked out onto the field before the game.

Tamir, 12, was fatally shot in November by a Cleveland police officer, while police shot and killed John Crawford III, 22, in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, in August.

Jeffrey Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, criticized Hawkins’ on-field protest.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they do best on the field,” Follmer told CNN in a statement.

“The Cleveland Police protect and serve Browns stadium,” he said. “The Browns organization owes us an apology.”

Medical examiners ruled Friday that Tamir’s death was a homicide. Authorities said the officer who shot him mistook the child’s air gun for a real firearm.

Tamir was pointing a pellet gun at people outside a recreation center before he was shot, police said. A witness called 911 to say that a black male – “probably a juvenile” – was pointing “a pistol” at people but added twice that the gun was “probably” fake.

Two officers arrived in a police car. Within two seconds of exiting the car, Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir, and the boy died the next day, police said.

Police have said that Loehmann opened fire after Tamir reached for the gun in his waistband and that an orange tip indicating the gun was a toy had been removed.

Follmer described the shooting of a 12-year-old as “unfortunate.”

“But the facts are, that he appeared to be a 20-year-old male. In the eyes of a Cleveland police officer his physical appearance exceeded Andrew Hawkins’ profile,” Follmer said. He noted that the Browns player was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed 170 pounds, compared to Tamir’s 5 feet 7 inches and 195 pounds.

The Cleveland Browns’ vice president of communications, Peter John-Baptiste, said the NFL team has “great respect” for the work of the Cleveland police.

“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,” he said.

In September, a grand jury decided not to indict police officers in Crawford’s shooting death.

But Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the U.S. Justice Department would review the Cincinnati resident’s shooting.

Crawford was shot and killed by police at a Walmart in Beavercreek on August 5 while carrying an air rifle through the store. Police responded to the scene after a witness called 911 and told dispatchers that Crawford was walking around with a rifle and “waving it back and forth.”

According to police, when officers arrived, Crawford did not comply with their commands to drop his weapon.

He was shot twice, once in the elbow and once in the torso, the prosecutor said, and died shortly after being transported to a nearby hospital.

The police criticism of Hawkins in Cleveland followed a similar controversy involving St. Louis Rams players over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The St. Louis Police Officers Association said it was “profoundly disappointed” after five Rams players raised their hands before a November 30 game in solidarity with protesters upset about Brown’s death.