In mid-December 2016, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) asked Amazon and Walmart to remove third-party “Black Lives Matter” related merchandise from their vast online marketplaces.
On 20 December 2016, the FOP tweeted a copy of a letter addressed to Walmart requesting such items be removed from the retail giant’s online listings:
Letter from National President Canterbury to Walmart President and CEO regarding third party sellers of BLM gear on the company website. pic.twitter.com/BLu1Eb0iND
— FOP Legislative (@FOPLegislative) December 20, 2016
The Washington Post reported that Walmart acquiesced to part of the request, removing “Bulletproof” items (but not “Black Lives Matter” merchandise):
The president of the national Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police organization, on [20 December 2016] asked Walmart to stop selling t-shirts and sweatshirts which say “Black Lives Matter” and “Bulletproof” on the department store’s website. Walmart said it would remove the shirts which say “Bulletproof,” but not the “Black Lives Matter” shirts. “Black Lives Matter” is a slogan and protest movement which emerged after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and police-involved slayings in 2014, and is seen as offensive by many in law enforcement. The website Breitbart.com posted an article which said that Walmart was “selling Black Lives Matter clothing and other items,” though the merchandise is actually being sold through Walmart’s website by [a third-party merchant] … Chuck Canterbury, the FOP president, wrote to Walmart CEO C. Douglas McMillon to advise him that the Walmart website was selling “offensive shirts and sweatshirts,” and “I urge you to prohibit the use of the Walmart name and website for the retail sale of these products.” The Walmart site and Old Glory’s site also sell “Blue Lives Matter” shirts.
In the letter to Walmart, Canterbury warned he was “concerned that by allowing these articles of clothing to be sold in this way will damage [Walmart’s] good name amongst FOP members and other active and retired law enforcement officers.” The version sent to Amazon asserted Canterbury was “very upset” that the company was “complicit in the sale of this offensive merchandise.”
On 22 December 2016, a Walmart representative was quoted as saying:
Like other online retailers, we have a marketplace with millions of items offered by third parties that includes Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter merchandise … After hearing concerns from customers, we removed the specific item with the ‘bulletproof’ reference.
Both the maker of the shirts in question and an FOP executive spoke to USA Today about the controversy:
Glenn Morelli, the owner of Old Glory Merchandise, the shirt’s maker, said he’s not surprised by the FOP’s request. He got a call from the organization and decided he’d pull the shirt himself. He said the shirt now isn’t featured on any of the websites selling Old Glory merchandise.
“We understand where the FOP stand and their point of view,” Morelli said. “We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Also, too, we support the police in different ways.”
FOP Executive Director Jim Pasco said his organization doesn’t oppose the “Black Lives Matter” phrase, but does object to those who intend to divide Americans racially. The organization, he said, decided to take action after the shirt was flagged by members.
Oddly, the FOP’s screed voices no analogous concerns about the variety of reactionary, dog whistle-y “Blue Lives Matter” merchandise that is also available on those sites — merchandise that, according to one supplier, “sells more than the Black Lives Matter or bulletproof shirts combined.” Walmart, of course, caved immediately.
The right’s continued insistence on treating Black Lives Matter as a violent anti-police ideology is bafflingly misplaced at best and willfully misleading at worst. At the most basic level, it’s a slogan adopted by people who share the groundbreaking opinion that black people should not be getting killed by police officers at alarming rates. This is not a position that should be remotely partisan or contentious.
Although Walmart granted the FOP’s request (at least in part) with alacrity, as of 26 December 2016 Amazon had not publicly responded to requests they cease selling “Black Lives Matter” merchandise, and a “Bulletproof” shirt (not the same as the one depicted above) was among items available for sale on Amazon along with two one-star reviews dated 26 December 2016. The FOP asserted that the organization would “continue to pressure retailers who sell the Black Lives Matter (BLM) merchandise until the group makes it clear that [they] don’t approve of anti-police violence.”
The generally stated focus of the BLM movement is not to promote violence against police, but to address “issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and perceived racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system.”