Arrest of Black teen at Bridgewater Commons Mall Credit: Instagram

“It’s because he’s Black,” is what someone is heard saying in the background of a viral video showing the arrest of a Black teen at the Bridgewater Commons Mall.

The video captured last week on a cellphone shows a confrontation between a Black teen and white teen before the two begin fighting. Two white Bridgewater police officers arrive on the scene and immediately pin the Black teen to the ground and put him in handcuffs while the white teen sits on a couch. 

Several Black organizations in New Jersey are calling the arrest racist because officers treated the two teens differently. The family of the Black teen and local leaders are calling for an investigation and for the officers involved to be disciplined. The family has retained civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump to be their attorney.

“They basically tackled me to the ground and then the one—the male officer put his knee in my back and then he starts putting me in cuffs,” Z’Kye Husain, 14, said in one interview. “And then the female officer came over and put her knee on my upper back too and started helping putting cuffs on me. And while [the other teenager] was just sitting down on the couch watching the whole thing.”

Last Saturday, The People’s Organization for Progress and activists from various areas of New Jersey held a press conference condemning the arrest. 

“We are having this press conference to publicly condemn the police response to the Bridgewater Mall fight and how they interacted with Z’kye Husain, a 14-year-old African-American teenager. We believe the way they handled the situation was a case of racial profiling and police brutality,” stated Lawrence Hamm, chairman, People’s Organization for Progress.

In a joint statement, several groups in the United Black Agenda say the officers exhibited discriminatory treatment and should be disciplined.

“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 statement said. “How did we get here? It starts with the racist stereotype of Black youth as ‘super predators,’ with research showing that Black boys and girls are seen as less innocent and more mature than their white peers.”

The NAACP said the video is a blatant example of how law enforcement treats Black people differently.

“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,” said Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “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.”

In a statement posted on social media, the Bridgewater Police Department said they are investigating the officers’ actions on the video. The department says they called for an internal affairs investigation.

“The officers were able to respond quickly to this incident and stop it from escalating because of a tip we received from the community,” the department said. “We have requested that the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office assist us in this matter and are requesting patience as we strictly adhere to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Internal Affairs Directive.”

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