Anthony G. Attrino
The NAACP-NJ State Conference is asking the Bridgewater Police Department to remove two police officers from duty as investigators look into a brawl that resulted in a Black teen pinned to the floor in handcuffs while the white teen was apparently left alone.
“When Bridgewater police found two youths fighting, the immediate reaction was to aggressively throw the black child to the ground, knee placed around the neck area and cuffed behind the back,” the NAACP said in a statement. “At the same time, the white youth, at least equally at fault for the fight as his black counterpart, was carefully eased onto a couch and treated like a victim.”
Video of the fight showed the Black teenager, who is 14, was fighting with a 16-year-old on Saturday at Bridgewater Commons mall when two white police officers broke up the fight. The officers knelt on the Black teen as he was pinned to the ground and cuffed. The white teen was guided to a couch and not cuffed on the video.
“Although an investigation is still gathering the facts about this incident, I’m deeply disturbed by what appears to be racially disparate treatment in this video,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a Tweet. “We’re committed to increasing trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”
Some of the teenagers who witnessed the altercation called the police response racist.
The white teen involved in the fight has now said publicly he thought the police handled the incident incorrectly. At the end of the video, he held his hands together expecting to also be cuffed after the Black teen was pinned to the ground.
“I knew it was wrong, and I knew there was gonna be problems when they did that,” the 15-year-old, named Joey, told PIX-11 News. “They didn’t go for me.”
The teenagers who were fighting have been banned from the mall for three years, according to Troy Fischer, senior general manager of the mall.
In a statement on Wednesday, the NAACP said it was disappointed “to see still another police action irrefutably showing the disparate treatment of African-Americans in our police institutions.”
The organization called for “these officers to be immediately removed from the police force pending an investigation.”
The United Black Agenda coalition, which includes representatives from eight organizations including the NAACP, also issued a statement condemning the police actions.
“This shocking and discriminatory treatment is unacceptable and calls for disciplinary action,” the United Black Agenda statement said. “Our criminal justice system cries out for meaningful reform. Indeed, a Black youth in New Jersey is almost 18 times more likely to be locked up than their white counterpart – the highest racial disparity rate in the country.”
The status of the two officers was not immediately available. Messages left at the Bridgewater Police Department on Tuesday were not returned.
The department on Monday released a statement saying the incident and the response of the officers is under investigation.
“We recognize that this video has made members of our community upset and are calling for an internal affairs investigation,” the department said in a statement posted to Facebook.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General said Tuesday they are monitoring developments in Bridgewater.
“We are aware of the incident and have been in contact with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating,” the AG spokesman said in an email.
Gov. Phil Murphy was asked about the incident Wednesday at his COVID briefing. “Although the investigation is still gathering facts, I am deeply disturbed by what appears to be a racially disparate treatment in the video,” Murphy said. “We underscore with emphasis that we’re committed to increasing trust between law enforcement on the one hand and the communities they serve on the other.”
The mother of the Black teenager told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that she didn’t want to say the police response was racially motivated.
“My focus is not on the racial aspect. It’s more on I don’t like the fact that the cops handled my son like that and the other boy was not touched,” she said.