Catherine Crump wants to trademark the phrase “I can’t breathe,” the last words of Staten Island man Eric Garner, which became a rallying cry — a symbol of anger and frustration —over the past two-plus weeks. Crump, who lives in Illinois, has no relation to Garner, who died in July after a New York City police officer placed him in an apparent chokehold.
So why is she filing for the trademark? For use on “clothing, namely hoodies, T-shirts for men, women, boys, girls and infants,” according to the application.
Crump’s application was submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Saturday. In it, Crump says she’s been using the trademark since Aug. 18, about a month after Garner died. Garner repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” over and over as officer Daniel Pantaleo held his arm around Garner’s neck.
A video of the confrontation prompted demonstrations and a grand jury investigation. The latter ultimately decided against indicting Pantaleo, prompting another round of demonstrations in protest. “I can’t breathe” is now repeated by protesters, emblazoned on T-shirts worn by NBA stars and considered by Fred Shapiro, editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations,” to be the most notable phrase of the year.
Now, Crump is asking for control of the commercial use of those last words. The Smoking Gun spotted the application this week. Crump, 57, told the Smoking Gun that she hadn’t spoken to the Garner family about her application. She also said that the trademark application was not intended to allow her to make money off of the phrase, but she didn’t tell the site what other purpose it might serve.
Crump did not immediately return phone and email messages from The Post.
The application, it should be noted, is hardly alone in its sudden notoriety. As the Smoking Gun notes, there were multiple applications to trademark “hands up don’t shoot,” filed within weeks of the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown. And the ALS Association ended up withdrawing a bid to trademark “ice bucket challenge” and “ALS ice bucket challenge” after the video trend brought in tens of millions of dollars in donations for the group.