Outside Walmart in Cedar City, Utah, November 1, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- A video taken at Cedar City Walmart on Halloween night of teenagers dressed in blackface and prisoner’s clothing that has spread on social media has sparked local, state, national and international outcry.
In the video, which St. George/Cedar City News chose not to publish, three of the teens wear dark makeup that was once used by minstrel performers to create bigoted caricatures of black people. They also wear black striped “jailbird” costumes. Two other teenagers are seen in police gear holding handcuffs.
The person filming the video is heard confronting the teenagers about the appropriateness of the outfits, but she laughs at them.
After initial confusion about whether the incident happened in Cedar City or at a Walmart in Utah’s northern suburb of Cedar Hills, Cedar City Mayor Garth Green told St. George / Cedar City News that “it was in Cedar.”
The city and Cedar City police later released a joint statement stating that although police were not called to the store at 1330 S. Providence Center at the time of the incident, it is now the subject of investigation.
“The Cedar City Police Department and Cedar City officials do not condone this type of activity,” the statement said.
While many social media users, including the person who filmed the video, called it a hate crime, Iron County District Attorney Chad Dotson said wearing blackface doesn’t is not technically a hate crime.
“I don’t have enough information from watching the video to make that judgment, but dressing like that is definitely not a hate crime. “
By definition, a hate crime must be an actual crime, such as robbery or assault, which may be related to hatred of the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
A media representative from Walmart’s corporate headquarters issued a statement saying the teens were eventually kicked out of the store.
“Upon learning that these individuals were in the building, our associates immediately ordered them to vacate the property,” the statement read. “We do not tolerate any form of discrimination or degrading behavior and are extremely disappointed with what is shown in this video.”
The video, which was initially on internet video service TikTok, later spread to Twitter – where “Cedar City” was among the top trending topics on Tuesday afternoon – as well as Instagram and Facebook.
It also spread through national and international media, including being reported by the British tabloid Daily Mail.
He also caught the attention of the governor of Utah.
“We strongly condemn racism in all its forms and call on every Utahn to reject these offensive stereotypes, slurs and attitudes,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement. “We have to do better.”
Some of the confusion over where the incident happened in Utah stems from people on social media trying to identify the teens involved as well as the schools they attend.
Shauna Lund, spokesperson for the Iron County School District, said that while they are unable to specifically identify the names of the students who may have been involved in the incident, the blackface teens do not appear to be local students.
“Based on the information we have obtained, preliminary results indicate that the individuals in blackface are not enrolled students in Iron County schools,” Lund said, although she did not rule out the possibility that some people in the video attend local schools. “We have opened an investigation into the student involvement and will take appropriate action once this investigation is complete.”
St. George News has learned that Cedar City-area high school switchboards have been inundated with calls described as harassing and accusing the community of being racist.
In July 2021, the Iron County School District released a racism guideline that said, “Iron County School District will not tolerate any action, practice, process or approach that promotes racism.” The previous month, a school board action to ban the teaching of critical race theory — the idea that racism is systemic in national institutions for white domination — in area schools was beaten with one voice.
In 2019, the council removed Cedar High’s “Redmen” mascot because some determined it was derogatory to Native Americans continues to draw criticism from those who say it’s not pejorative. In another recent incident involving a race in Cedar City, an elementary student said students, parents and administrators bullied her because she’s half black.
The dissemination of some information that turned out to be false nevertheless led some minors and institutions to face harassment online and offline on Tuesday.
In addition to condemning the act, Cedar City officials also cautioned against harassing people online or jumping to conclusions without confirmation, including blaming teens or institutions not involved in the incident.
“While topics like these can provoke an emotional reaction, we encourage everyone to be mindful when sharing videos of minors on social media, including any cyber or other bullying that may accompany this type of incident,” Cedar City officials said in their statement.
Rebekah Larsen, researcher at Cambridge University and Oslo Metropolitan University, author of a oft-cited July study on how Facebook uses people’s personal data, told St. George News that a lack of regulation of how information about minors is disseminated on social media leaves young people vulnerable to harassment.
“My first response is that the United States needs more regulation to protect minors around this stuff, but also just people in general,” said Larsen, who before becoming an internationally renowned researcher has grew up in Utah.
Larsen noted the privacy measures in place across the European Union known as the “right to be forgotten” where people can submit their information to be removed from search engines if it is false or their cause harm – even mistakes made in their youth.
“The regulations were pushed because of people doing things when they were under the age of majority and putting them online and then preventing them from getting a job or just impacting their personal lives. But the United States has no such thing, Larsen said. “Basically anything indexed by search engines that is inaccurate, no longer relevant, potentially harmful, and does not relate to a public figure…that person can request that those search results be removed from Google.”
St. George News/Cedar City News reporters Nick Yamashita and Jeff Richards contributed to this story.
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