A video showing police officers breaking up a fight between a Black teenager and a White teenager at a New Jersey mall has prompted outrage over the police response.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the “appearance of what is racially disparate treatment is deeply, deeply disturbing.”
One video of the incident reviewed by CNN shows the boys arguing before the White teenager points his finger at the Black teenager’s face, and the Black teenager pushes the White teenager’s hand back. The White teenager pushes the Black teenager, who begins to throw punches at the other boy. The White teenager punches back.
The Black teenager ends up on the ground. Two Bridgewater Township police officers arrive and separate the two boys.
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The Black teenager begins to get up and is pinned to the ground by one officer and rolled on to his stomach, with his hands behind his back. The other officer pushes the White teenager onto a nearby couch and then assists in handcuffing the Black teenager. Eventually, officers stand the handcuffed Black teenager up.
It is unclear from the video how the incident escalated between the boys or what happened after the Black teenager was handcuffed.
The Bridgewater Township Police Department said in a Facebook post that they know video of the incident has upset members of the community. They have asked the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the incident.
“We recognize that this video has made members of our community upset and are calling for an internal affairs investigation,” the department wrote.
Mother of Black teen angered by police response
The Black teenager, whose name is Kye, and his mother, Ebone, spoke with CNN Wednesday about the circumstances around the fight and their thoughts on the police reaction. CNN is not using the family’s last name at their request.
“I hate to say this, but if it wasn’t for race, then what is it?” Ebone told CNN’s Don Lemon. “What made them tackle my son, not the other kid? What made them be so aggressive with my son, not the other kid? Why is the other kid sitting down, looking at my son be humiliated and put into cuffs? It just doesn’t make sense. And it makes me angry.”
“I felt like they were treating him like he was superior to me,” Kye, said of the officers leaving the White teen on the couch while he was handcuffed.
Kye said the fight started when the other teen was bullying his friend and Kye intervened.
“I keep trying to wrap my mind around it and in no possible scenario does it make sense to me,” Ebone said of the officers’ responses. “I want their badges taken away,” she added.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, said officials haven’t given him any information on why Kye was handcuffed.
“Why is it the Black kid is presumed guilty and the White kid is presumed innocent,” Crump said. “The Black kid is put face down with a knee in his back and the White kid was allowed to sit on the couch and observe him being humiliated?”
“It really troubles us,” Crump added.
CNN has not been able to speak with the other teenager involved or their family.
Authorities investigating fight and police response
Bridgewater Township police said in its statement, “The officers were able to respond quickly to this incident and stop it from escalating because of a tip we received from the community. 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.
“We appreciate the videos that we have already received from community members and ask that anyone who has a video of this incident please email it to email@example.com. The men and women of the Bridgewater Township Police Department are thankful for our community partners and look forward to continuing to build our positive relationships.”
Gov. Murphy on Wednesday said that the incident is “just another reminder that the progress we made on the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve … our work is not done, and we need to continue that.”
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to CNN Wednesday that their Internal Affairs Unit is investigating both the fight and the police response. The Mayor of Bridgewater, Matthew Moench, said in a letter to residents that it is “not appropriate for [him] or any other Township official to comment any further” while the investigation is ongoing, but said he is “completely confident that the Prosecutor’s review will be impartial, objective and thorough.”
The New Jersey Attorney General’s office also said in statement Wednesday that they are working closely with the prosecutor’s office on the investigation. “The SPCO will follow the Attorney General’s Office’s strict guidelines and procedures for investigating possible misconduct, and to ensure transparency and accountability,” a spokesperson said.
CNN’s Kiely Westhoff, Laura Ly, Mirna Alsharif and Tanika Gray contributed to this story.