Officers’ handling of Bridgewater Commons Mall fight sparks concerns of racial discrimination
An investigation is underway into how two Bridgewater police officers handled a fight between two teenagers at the Bridgewater Commons Mall this past weekend – a fight that was caught on camera.
The video, which has gone viral, appears to show the officers treating two teenagers very differently following a confrontation, leading some to claim racial bias in policing.
The NAACP is calling for the officers to be suspended.
The video posted online appears to show two younger teens in an argument that then turns physical. One of the teens is Black, and the other has lighter skin, and is believed to be Latino. They are seen arguing, pointing fingers, pushing and then punching each other.
Two police officers rush in and break up the fight. The lighter skin teen is pulled off the Black teen and allowed to sit on a nearby couch.
The officers then appear to force the Black teen face down on the ground and cuff him behind his back. One officer even appears to place her knee on the teen’s neck.
The lighter skin teen is never put in handcuffs, even though at one point he appears to think he might be.
Both teens were not seriously injured. But posters on social media are outraged over the incident, calling it a case of clear racial bias by law enforcement.
“We were disappointed as the NAACP to see another police action irrefutably showing disparate treatment of an African American in regard to dealings with the police,” says Richard Smith, president of the NAACP NJ Conference.
Smith says that the video is reminiscent of the deadly incidents involving Eric Garner and George Floyd.
“This has to stop…The immediate reaction was to aggressively grab the Black child and throw him on the ground," Smith says.
Gov. Phil Murphy called the matter disturbing during his COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.
“We have to let the investigation play out. The appearance of what is racially disparate treatment is deeply, deeply disturbing. And another reminder of the progress we made on the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, led by great leaders…that our work isn't done and we need to continue that,” Murphy said.
Somerset County Commissioner Director Shanel Robinson also put out a statement. She is the first Black woman to hold the position.
"Watching incidents like this over the past few years has been particularly difficult. Having this happen in my own community where I raised my family makes it even worse,” Robinson said in part.
Management for the Bridgewater Commons Mall is referring the matter to the police department but says that both teens have been banned from the mall property for the next three years.
The mayor’s office and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office are promising a thorough investigation.