A viral video of a Greenport boy being recognized by the Southold Town police officers he idolizes has reached the White House and the presidential campaign.
At the close of her media briefing Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany played the video, which rose to national prominence after it was viewed more than 2.6 million times on The Suffolk Times Facebook page.
“We saw a very touching video that we loved,” Ms. McEnany said in explaining the efforts of White House staffers to obtain permission to play the video from the local police department and the family of 6-year-old Jace McKenzie. “This is emblematic of where America stands with regards to our police.”
The video shows Jace, a young black boy who says he wants to be a police officer when he grows up, celebrating as local officers arrived to say hello during his socially distant birthday party at Sixth Street Beach.
“I love police!” he exclaimed before jumping into the arms of an officer.
The video, which was published July 14, struck a chord with people all over the world at a time when protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota, have led to a national discourse over racial inequality in policing and calls for reform.
While New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for police departments throughout the state to present their own plans for reform by next year, President Donald Trump and others, including local Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), have rallied around the police, frequently turning to Twitter with calls for “law and order.”
At the start of Friday’s press briefing, Ms. McEnany showed a reel of some of the more intense exchanges between what appears to be law enforcement and protestors in Portland, Oregon, where the President sent federal law enforcement this month.
“As you can see, that is anything but a peaceful protest,” Ms. McEnany said at the conclusion of the clips.
Reporting on the turmoil in Portland, The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, on Saturday described the protests as “weeks of raucous demonstrations” that had “nearly wound down” before “President Trump sent in federal forces.” Since then, the paper reported, “protests against police violence and systemic racism quickly grew bigger and louder.”
The video of Jace closed out Friday’s media briefing, with Ms. McEnany walking away saying, “Thank you to our heroic police departments around the country. America stands with you.”
The birthday celebration in Greenport was organized after Jace’s great aunt reached out to officer Richard Buonaiuto about attending the party.
“We believe building positive relationships with the youth is extremely important,” Mr. Buonaiuto told The Suffolk Times.
Tiffany McKenzie, Jace’s aunt, said at the time that with “what’s going on today in the world, people need to see that there’s good out there.”
Police Chief Martin Flatley said he helped set up the sharing of the video with White House staff Friday.
“To me, it exemplifies the relationship our officers have with our residents, our neighbors, our community,” he said.
“We were told of his desire to be a police officer when he grows up,” the chief continued. “We all have kids, how could we not want to be involved? It was set up on short notice, I’m just glad we were able to free up a couple of officers to attend. They enjoyed it just as much as Jace.”
Since the video went viral, Jace has gotten plenty of attention with people approaching him at the beach and a clerk at a local convenience store telling him how one man bought every copy they had of that week’s The Suffolk Times because of that article.
His mom, Tai, said Saturday that he’s also been receiving police badges and patches from anonymous sources around the globe, including someone who recently reached out to send a badge from Australia.
Of the attention he received from the White House Friday, Ms. McKenzie said her son “thought it was cool.” She said she never expected they’d receive that type of attention.
“Now he keeps saying he wants to be president,” she said.
Asked if that means he no longer aspires to be a cop, she was quick to shoot that narrative down.
“No, no, no, he wants to be that too,” she said. “To him, at his age, it all comes hand in hand.”