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Eric Holder applauds Derrick Rose’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirt

Exclusive: With the nation at another important moment in race relations, I asked Attorney General Eric Holder what he thought of Derrick Rose and LeBron James wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts and if what they were doing was helpful.

“Derrick Rose wore it first,” Holder reminded me about the Chicago Bulls superstar as he applauded the silent protest heard across the country.

“As my son would point out, everybody copied him. Derrick Rose was the first one in the NBA to wear it.”

In the eyes of Holder’s 16-year-old son, Eric III, Rose ranks higher than the attorney general. “I think that’s a good thing,” Holder said.

We were talking in a Dirksen Federal Building office overlooking Dearborn Street on Friday.

Chicago was the latest stop on Holder’s national tour meeting with local law enforcement, government, religious, educational, civic and community leaders in the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, where white police officers escaped indictments after the deaths of unarmed black men.

Holder’s travels come as part of the Justice Department response to try to build trust between police and the communities they serve, trying to figure out ways to prevent more painful incidents.

Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt last Saturday during warm-ups before playing the Golden State Warriors, powerfully shining a spotlight on the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, whose last words have become a rallying cry.

Other NBA players, including the Cleveland Cavaliers’ James, followed Rose’s lead.

The star athletes are looked up to and “whether they want to be or not, they are role models, they are seen as people who young men especially want to be like,” Holder said as he invoked the name of the first black major league ball player.

“For them to get out there and to express in that way a social conscience, I think goes back to maybe people that these guys don’t even know or my son has a vague awareness of, to Jackie Robinson, who is seen as not only a great athlete, but as an involved, thinking, caring black man.

“And to have LeBron, Derrick Rose and others who wore those ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts, that shows a level of involvement. It shows a depth to them beyond just being great ballplayers.”

Said Holder, “And it’s all about our democracy, and who we are as a country that our celebrities, our athletic celebrities, can use their status to express I think what I call a social and political point. I think that’s a good thing.”

Supports chokehold ban

Chicago’s City Council is considering a measure to ban chokeholds, and I asked Holder if that was a good idea.

“Yes,” he said.

“I mean, there are any number of ways in the 21st century, both with regards to training and other technological things that we can do that you can come up with ways in which you can immobilize the subject without using a chokehold.

“There is just no need for that anymore.”