So have you seen any of those “Bulletproof” t-shirts being sold in support of the Black Lives Matter movement? They’ve shown up at a number of rallies, marches and protests for quite a while now. In fact, going back to 2015 and the early days of the presidential campaign we were seeing them on activists protesting at speeches given by Bernie Sanders. (Click for full size image.)
As you might imagine, the law enforcement officials who run into these displays generally aren’t big fans. It’s not the BLM portion of the message so much as the provocative use of “bulletproof” as a theme. And now the Fraternal Order of Police is letting Amazon know that they don’t want the shirts being sold on their site. (Fox News)
The largest police union in the U.S. demanded that Amazon remove a shirt from a third-party vendor that supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Fraternal Order of Police wants the online retailer to follow Walmart and remove a shirt that sports the words “Bulletproof: Black Lives Matter” across the chest, The Guardian reported Friday. Walmart removed the shirt from its store after the union called it “offensive.”
FOP President Chuck Canterbury wrote in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to support the union in “increasing the bonds of trust between the men and women of law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
The shirt is still being displayed at Amazon as of this writing, but it’s “unavailable.” I’m not sure if that means it’s just out of stock or shipments are on hold.
You can’t separate this question from the issue of free speech. Shirts don’t qualify as incitement to violence under the Brandenburg Test, so the idea of an actual “ban” on them would be absurd. I personally find the shirts highly objectionable, but if I saw the government trying to criminalize their sale or display I’d be out there protesting alongside BLM. Of course, the free speech of everyone else counts as well, so if we want to criticize the shirts we’re free to do so.
What’s going on with the FOP grazes up near a gray area between those two scenarios. The police themselves are public servants who are funded by the taxpayers. In that regard they are certainly part of “the government” so we don’t when them stepping all over the First Amendment. If it were the officials in charge of specific police units this would be entirely out of line, but this isn’t the government making the statement. This is the union representing many of the cops. It’s a civilian entity and they have no authority over the public. So from that perspective, they are free to express their own condemnation of the t-shirts I suppose.
Personally, as with many other offensive slogans, I’d almost rather have the shirts out there on display in the public square. You might want to know who is or isn’t on the side of law and order and when the actors involved are willing to so clearly label themselves, well… let’s just leave this one in the free speech category, shall we?