Cedar City police are working to identify three teens who were involved in a verbal confrontation at a Walmart on Halloween while wearing blackface and black-and-white striped prisoner costumes.
A video of the confrontation, which initially appeared on TikTok and since went viral on a variety of social media platforms, has triggered widespread outrage and condemnation. The footage depicts the three teens wearing blackface along with a young woman outfitted in a police costume, all of whom were scolded for being racist by the person apparently filming, who is off-camera.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Iron County School District said the teens aren’t students in the district.
“The joint investigation with the Cedar City Police department into the video that went viral on social media is ongoing. Based on the current findings we can definitively say the three individuals in black face are not students in Iron County Schools. The individuals depicted in the video have all been identified, the investigation into their involvement is continuing,” the statement read.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox was one of many offended Tuesday by the video.
“We strongly condemn racism in all its forms and we call on every Utahn to reject such offensive stereotypes, slurs and attitudes,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “We must do better.”
Wearing blackface is racist and dehumanizing. The practice of using makeup to imitate the appearance of a Black person dates back to the 1800s, when minstrel show performers began darkening their faces to create bigoted caricatures of Black people.
Cedar City Police Sgt. Justin Ludlow said the department was not called about the Walmart confrontation and thus never responded. But after a witness at the store later contacted police about the exchange, authorities are now investigating, according to a police news release.
Ludlow said the department is working with area school resource officers to determine if any of the teens involved were students at local schools.
Initial reports identified at least one school attended by a teen in the video, but Ludlow said that proved to be unfounded. Cedar City police continue to monitor social media for leads.
“While topics such as these can cause an emotional reaction, we encourage everyone to be mindful when sharing videos of juveniles on social media, including any cyber or other harassment that can accompany this type of incident,” police stated in the press release.
Ludlow said that even if the youths are identified, it is not clear that they will be arrested or charged with a crime.
“There are some differences between what people think and what the law [is], because people have the freedom of speech, and we don’t know exactly what happened,” he said. “All we got is that one video, and so it’s going to have to be investigated.”
Iron County School District spokesperson Shauna Lund said Tuesday that based on the district’s preliminary review, none of the individuals wearing blackface in the footage are enrolled in Iron County public schools.
“Iron County School District is aware of the video that is circulating on social media,” district officials said in a prepared statement. “We are taking this matter seriously. We have opened an investigation into the student involvement and will take appropriate action once that investigation is complete.”
Despite separate reports on social media that at least one teen attended an Alpine School District school, district officials said such assertions are inaccurate.
“None of them were from Alpine School District schools,” said Kimberly Bird, executive director of internal relations and operations for the district.
Southern Utah University also released a statement Tuesday afternoon that said none of the individuals in the video has been identified as an SUU student.
“At SUU, we are committed to fostering an inclusive community, we affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person and we strive to maintain an atmosphere of belonging,” the statement read in part. “Events such as this affect our entire community. We stand against racism and denounce any kind of discriminatory behavior, including what is shown in this video.”
In the video, the person apparently filming can be heard saying, “You guys are never going to get into a college, you guys are not going to get any scholarships, because this is a hate crime.”
The teens can be seen smirking and laughing as they seemed to dismiss the person’s comments.
“We all dropped out of high school, it’s OK,” one of the youths responds while off-screen.
“I still don’t think it is appropriate for you guys to be doing this. … It’s really not funny,” the person apparently filming responded.
Walmart spokesperson Stephanie Sharp said associates at the Cedar City Walmart, upon learning “these people were in the building,” immediately instructed them to leave the store.
“We don’t tolerate discrimination or demeaning behavior of any kind and are incredibly disappointed by what is shown in this video,” she said.