Civil rights leaders are reacting with disgust and anger to what they describe as a racist police response to a mall fight between two teenagers in New Jersey.
The fight, which took place recently at Bridgewater Commons Mall in Bridgewater Township, was recorded on video by a bystander and posted to social media, where it went viral this week. The video showed a 14-year-old boy identified only as Z’kye and a white teenage boy confronting each other before devolving into a full-blown fistfight. Onlookers who appeared to be fellow teenagers surrounded them as the fight spilled out of the seating area where the confrontation began.
That’s when two fully uniformed police officers could be seen running into the frame. One, a woman officer, yanked the white boy aside. But the other officer, a man, violently wrestled Z’kye to the ground and handcuffed him as the woman officer joined in to employ a restraining hold with her knee on his back. Z’kye was compliant and did not resist.
All the while, the white boy — who was just as guilty as the Black teen — was shown sitting in the background watching unscathed. No handcuffs, no kneeling restraint, nothing.
A voice from an unidentified person could be heard saying on the video, “It’s ’cause he’s Black, racially motivated.”
That’s where the nearly one-minute-long video ends abruptly. Watch it below.
In the end, Z’kye was arrested and the white boy was not, Northeast Regional Director of National Action Network, Rev. Steffie Bartley, Sr., said in an email to NewsOne. He pointed to the disparate treatment for the same behavior and suggested racism was to blame.
“I have seen the videos regarding the excessive force incident at the Bridgewater Mall. The video that I have seen is quite disturbing and suggests implicit bias as it relates to the police officers’ response,” Bartley said in part. “Why was the young Black man on the ground with handcuffs while the young white man was sitting on the couch as if he were overseeing?”
The Bridgewater Police Department has reportedly opened up an investigation into the incident, but that’s not enough, Bartley said.
“I also call upon the AG’s office to investigate this matter to ensure these officers’ actions are not systemic to the Bridgewater Police Department training and standard operating procedures,” Bartley added.
New Jersey’s state chapter of the NAACP called for the unidentified officers to be “removed.” The video showed an officer placing a knee around Z’kye’s “neck area” while the white boy was “treated like a victim,” chapter President Richard T. Smith said in a statement. He echoed Bartley’s call for the new jersey attorney general’s office to get involved in the investigation.
Z’kye — identified by ABC News as Kye, an eighth-grader — said the white boy he was fighting was in high school and picking on a seventh-grade student.
“My friend was arguing with the older kid, and so I kind of just jumped into a fight,” Z’kye said. “And since he’s older, he was on top of me and he’s bigger. I was just confused and mad about it.”
Z’kye said that’s when the police arrived and swiftly doled out their form of justice.
“They basically tackled me to the ground, and then the male officer put his knee in my back and then he started putting me in cuffs,” Z’kye added. “Then the female officer came over and put her knee on my upper back too and started helping him put cuffs on me, while (the white high schooler) was just sitting down on the couch watching the whole thing.”
In case there was any confusion over whether the white boy was arrested, he is on video saying he couldn’t believe he didn’t get in trouble like Z’kye did.
“She said, ‘stay put,'” the white boy, identified by local news outlet WPIX only as Joey, recalled during an interview. “I didn’t understand why.”
This is America.
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