Cameron Hilliard was walking with some friends after school Thursday when someone nearby blurted out an expletive about the police.
The anti-law enforcement sentiment caught the attention of a Richmond police officer parked outside Albert Hill Middle School. In search of whoever made the snide remark, the officer circled toward Cameron and her friends, instructing them to “man up” and admit who said it, according to Cameron.
Her friends asserted their group didn’t make the remark. As the students and the officer went back and forth, Cameron instinctively began filming.
“Even if we did say it, that’s our choice of words,” one of her friends is heard telling the officer. Moments later, he appears to respond with profane language of his own.
“Wait till your a--es turn 18; then you’re mine,” he says. The eighth-graders scream in disbelief as the officer speeds off. The parent of another child in the group uploaded the 30-second clip to Facebook, where it has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.
Cameron, who is 13, wonders how the situation would have played out if she and her friends — who are all black — were actually 18.
“I felt threatened. We were shocked,” Cameron said, speaking to a Washington Post reporter along with her mother. She thought to herself, “ ‘Can he say that? Why would he say that to us, when we’re not the ones who said it?' ”
Cameron’s mother, Keisha Curry, said she initially brushed off the incident until she saw how much it affected her daughter. Cameron has alopecia, a medical condition that causes baldness, and works with local schools to raise awareness about bullying. The two uploaded a video to YouTube reflecting on the Thursday exchange, where Curry explained Cameron had recently worked with local law enforcement as part of her various advocacy efforts.
“It may have gave her a reality check that all officers aren’t good,” Curry said. “She knows there are good officers out there, but there are bad officers as well.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) addressed the viral video Friday, writing in a statement that the officer’s remark “will not be tolerated by any employee of the city.”
“This behavior is unacceptable. It reinforces stereotypes of our communities that are hurtful and damages the relationship between our police department and the citizens they are charged to serve,” Stoney wrote.
He added that the Richmond Police Department would “conduct a quick and thorough investigation and respond accordingly.”
Richmond police confirmed Wednesday an internal investigation was underway and said in a statement that the department “takes these concerns very seriously.” Police reported to other media outlets that the officer was a white man but declined to give his name or additional information.
Curry said police haven’t been transparent with her family, providing her few details about the status of the investigation. She called the situation “disheartening.”
“We don’t know anything; we don’t even know the officer’s name,” Curry said. “If the roles were reversed, we’d know everything.”
But the mother isn’t pushing for the officer to be fired, she said. Instead, she’d like to sit down with him to understand the reason he addressed a group of children the way he did, regardless of context.
“I don’t think he should be patrolling the streets,” she said. “I do think he needs some training . . . some more encounters with youth, just to see he can’t stereotype kids like that.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Richmond NAACP President James Minor, who told The Post the officer should be ordered to take cultural sensitivity classes and do community service within the public school system.
Minor said he took issue with the officer’s disrespectful tone, especially his use of profanity.
“I don’t care if you’re black or white, you shouldn’t be using profane language with children,” he said. “Just because you’re authority, that doesn’t give you the right to speak to children any kind of way.”
Curry said Cameron knew to start filming because of an encounter her older sister had with police about two weeks prior. An officer was apparently being rude, Curry said, but “straightened his act up” once Cameron pulled out her phone and recorded the exchange.
This case, the mother said, was “unacceptable.”
“Our kids deserve better,” she said.