"It was five officers," Holder said. "I was sitting right at the patio, watching the children. So when I saw (the police) come up, I jumped up and went straight to the door."
Eli was celebrating his big day with friends in Raleigh, North Carolina, play fighting outside his home at an apartment complex. The kids' commotion disturbed a neighbor who called police to complain that five people were arguing and fighting outside.
"As the officers were talking to the children, I walked up. And then he stopped talking to children and he came up to me and he was telling me why the police were there," Holder said. "And I told him it's a children's birthday party. They're all children. Nobody's out here fighting. They're children."
"Then the officers went out and they started talking with the kids. They asked the kids whose birthday it was.... and then the police said, 'Well, how about we play with y'all?'"
That's when the disturbance call turned into playtime. The officers threw the football with Eli and the other kids. At one point, they all ran a footrace in the parking lot.
A disturbance call at these Raleigh apartments turned out to be a group of children playing at a 5-year-old’s birthday party. These five RPD officers turned it into an opportunity for fun.— 𝙹𝚘𝚎𝚕 𝙱𝚛𝚘𝚠𝚗 (@JoelBrownABC11) April 29, 2022
“They said, ‘Well, how about we play with y'all?!’” #abc11 pic.twitter.com/VHZU1eozga
"It was a sigh of relief," said community advocate and Justice Served NC Director Diana Powell who has spent years on the frontlines of fights over police accountability and better de-escalation training.
Powell counts what happened at the apartment complex as a win for community policing.
Powell says she speaks with Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson at least every other day. And she's been leading weekly three-on-three meetings -- three police officers and three members of the community.
"The people that have been around that roundtable feel like they're being heard," Powell said.
Holder says Eli describes the day as the best birthday he's ever had.
"It's been a total change in the kids since just that one experience. The kids have totally earned respect for police officers," Holder said.
A spokesperson for Raleigh Police Department said Chief Patterson was delighted to see the video of the officers playing with the children.
"Every opportunity to engage with the community in a positive light is a win for the RPD and those we serve," Patterson said in a statement. "As we transition into the warmer months, you can expect to see more officers out and about enjoying the spring weather with the community. We would also like to wish Eli a very happy birthday!"