ST. GEORGE — The Staten Island Yankees hosted a "Blue Lives Matter" fundraiser in support of the NYPD Sunday — the same day of the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — calling the event a "coincidence" after drawing criticism on social media.
The minor league team held the fundraiser during its game against the Brooklyn Cyclones over the weekend to raise money for families of NYPD officers who died in the line of duty — handing out wristbands inscribed with "Blue Lives Matter," and drawing a rash of criticisms from social media users.
"On today of all days, they made it clear that not only is baseball 'America's Favorite Pastime,' but it goes hand in hand with the continued dehumanization of black Americans," Kirsten West Savali wrote in The Root.
Not insensitive at all, Staten Island Yankees! pic.twitter.com/rlFZQ5mw9Z— Aaron Fischer (@AaronFisch) August 9, 2015
In response to the criticisms, Michael Holly, senior director for the Staten Island Yankees, defended its decision, saying that the anniversary hadn't crossed their minds when they set the date for "Blue Lives Matter Day."
"When this was planned we were not thinking of the anniversary, this was entirely coincidental," Holly said. "We understand why people have taken the kind of instant reaction that happened. This is no different then any kind of fundraiser we do. We help them give them a platform to raise money for anybody in need that’s local."
Joseph Imperatice, 30, who founded Blue Lives Matter NYC and organized Sunday's event, said he's been planning it for months and it never occurred to him that the date was the anniversary of Brown's death and it was not meant to disrespect other movements.
"This whole thing has been in the process since February, it was something we didn't think about it," said Imperatice, an NYPD sergeant in Manhattan. "It's not just about the blue, it's about every part of the world. It doesn't take away from Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, cops are all people and that's what it's about."
Imperatice, who lives in Staten Island, said that he started the fund in the wake of the shooting deaths of Detectives Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Bed-Stuy last year to help families of slain officers and fellow police and city workers going through tough times. The group raised $3,000 during the Yankees game on Sunday.
He added that the group tries to act like the "Make a Wish Foundation" by providing experiences for NYPD families in need, for instance by letting them throw the first pitch during the game, or offering them shopping sprees.
"We want to do the little things," he said. "They’re going through a hard time and they do feel lonely. It turns something that was negative into a positive."
The Yankees gave out free "Blue Lives Matter" wristbands to those who bought $25 tickets to the game and the first pitch was thrown by family members of Liu and Ramos.
Holly said the organization would be open to hosting similar fundraisers for all sides of any conflict, especially since Eric Garner died after being arrested by an NYPD officer blocks away from the stadium.
"We’d be open to helping people on all sides for any conflict," he said. "We consider ourselves representing anyone around us. We'll always be open to helping anybody in need."