New Jersey police are under fire for their response to a fistfight after a Black eighth grader was pinned to the ground and handcuffed while a white teen involved in the weekend mall scuffle was left seated on a couch.
The fight, which took place Saturday at Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey, was captured on video and prompted a review of the officers’ conduct, as well as strong words from the governor.
Video of the incident shows a group of young people gathered in a seating area at the mall and two boys, one white and one Black, standing up in a verbal altercation.
The Black teen, Z’Kye Husain, 14, said the dispute started when he stood up to the other boy, who is older, for picking on his friend.
“He was kind of saying, like, ‘You’re a little kid, you’re my little pet,’ and stuff like that,” he told NBC New York.
The confrontation escalated with the two throwing punches at each other as onlookers shouted, according to the video.
After several seconds of punching, two uniformed Bridgewater police officers ran onto the scene and pulled the two apart.
One officer pushed the white teen into a seated position on the couch, according to the video.
Meanwhile, Z’Kye, already on the ground, was pinned onto his stomach by a male officer, with the officer’s knee appearing to be on his back. A female officer then helped, placing her knee near the back of Z’Kye's neck as they put him in handcuffs, according to the clip.
A person in the background is heard saying: “Yo, it’s ’cause he’s Black. Racially motivated.”
The white teen appeared to be left alone and at one point stood up and looked over the scene as the two officers restrained Z’Kye.
Z'Kye said of being restrained: “I was, like, calm, because I knew not to be scared. Just stay calm and not move and do what they tell me to do.”
His mother, Eboné, who only shared her first name to NBC New York, was outraged.
“It doesn’t take two cops to hold a 14-year-old boy down who’s not resisting, while the other boy is just kind of going free and still going off on my son. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Both Z’Kye and the other teen involved have been banned from the mall for three years, Bridgewater Commons said to NBC News in a statement.
Eboné said: “It’s not fair that we are constantly having to fear the cops. I’m just glad it happened where there were a whole bunch of eyes on the situation, ’cause I don’t know what would have happened.”
The Bridgewater Police Department addressed the incident Monday in a statement on its Facebook page.
“We recognize that this video has made members of our community upset and are calling for an internal affairs investigation,” the statement said.
Police are asking anyone with video of the incident to share it with the department, and they asked the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an independent review of the officers’ conduct.
Bridgewater Township Mayor Matthew Moench acknowledged the video Tuesday, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy expressed his concern.
Moench noted in a statement that the rules governing use of force by police officers in New Jersey are codified by the state attorney general’s office.
“I am completely confident that the Prosecutor’s review will be impartial, objective and thorough,” Moench said. “I want to thank the public for its patience in refraining from jumping to conclusions while an investigation is pending.”
In his statement, Murphy said: “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. We’re committed to increasing trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”
Z'Kye's family has retained civil rights attorney Ben Crump, the law firm announced Thursday. Crump identified the white teen as an 11th grader.
"Z’Kye, an 8th grader, was noble to defend his friend from bullies; however, it is evident that officers immediately assumed that because of the color of Z’Kye’s skin, him acting nobly was not even in the realm of possibility. That video says it all," he said.
Crump added: "Z’Kye was no more of a threat to those officers than the white teen who fought with him. This is another example of the kind of racial bias that we need to root out of our system of policing. These officers need to be reprimanded and retrained to overcome the implicit bias that results in unequal — and often dangerous — treatment of Black people.”