Two New Jersey police officers are under investigation after a video shows them seemingly showing preference to a white teen while pinning a Black teen down after breaking up their fight at a shopping mall last weekend. The viral clip has many, including the white teen involved, alleging bias.
The state’s governor, NAACP, the child’s parent and other community leaders have responded in outrage. Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted saying, “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.”
Footage captured by others revealed how the altercation unfolded. It showed that the white-passing teen, whose name is Joey, was actually the aggressor, placing even more heat on the arresting officers. The Black child’s name is Kye.
The video shows both teens arguing in the Bridgewater Commons mall in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey, on Saturday, Feb. 12.
Viewers see Joey, who is larger than Kye, poking his finger into the young man’s face. Kye pushes Joey’s hand away. In response, Joey takes both of his hands and aggressively shoves Kye, the smaller teen, almost causing him to stumble.
This starts their physical fight. Both are throwing punches and other kids are scrambling out of the way.
Joey actually throws Kye onto a couch, but eventually, the tussle leads them to the ground. Joey maintains the advantage by standing over Kye, as the Black teen swings wildly from his unfortunate position. Within 10 to 15 seconds of the fight starting, the officers swarm in.
The female officer pushes Joey onto the same couch and shouts, “stay.” He sits there, for a second, and calmly watches the ordeal. However, at one point, Joey stands up and watches from a birds-eye view the officers detaining his opposition.
Both officers pin Kye down, turn him on his stomach, and start the process of cuffing him. To keep him still, they place their knees on the young man’s back.
A different teen is captured on the recording of the incident saying, “It’s cause he’s Black. It’s racially motivated.”
As they lift the Black young man, the white-skinned child is still standing and watching over the three. The female tells him to sit down and he puts up his hands as if to say “OK.”
At this time, the male officer sits the Black teen on a chair and makes a call on his walkie-talkie.
ABC 7 was one of the first outlets to identify Kye as a 14-year-old eighth grader from a local middle school. Kye explained that Joey is older than him and his friends and is in high school.
Kye described the incident almost as the video captured it. He claimed that the confrontation was precipitated by Joey picking on Kye’s seventh-grade friend.
“My friend was arguing with the older kid, and so I kind of just jumped into a fight,” he said. “And since he’s older, he was on top of me and he’s bigger. I was just confused and mad about it.”
The minor’s mother, Ebone, says that she can’t fully watch the video and is taking “baby steps” in her viewership.
Gov. Murphy is not taking baby steps and has called for a full investigation. The state’s head executive said after watching the clip he is disappointed in how the incident was handled and does not hesitate to call out the racial bias portrayed by the officers.
“We have to let the investigation play out. The appearance of what is racially disparate treatment is deeply, deeply disturbing,” he said in a statement. “It’s just another reminder that the progress we’ve made on the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve … shows that our work is not done and we need to continue that.”
The NAACP also weighed in with a statement. The president for the civil rights and social justice organization’s NJ State Conference, Richard T. Smith, called for the two officers to be removed.
“Despite years of talk about bias training and accountability, the video of what happened today in Bridgewater cannot be denied,” his remarks read in part.
“This is something African Americans in New Jersey experience too often,” he stated before demanding the governor and attorney general to put an end to “this type of behavior by the police.”
Joey also noted, in an interview with PIX 11, that the officers discriminated against Kye.
“I knew it was wrong, and I knew there was gonna be problems when they did that,” he said. “They didn’t go for me.”
“I didn’t understand why,” the teen said. “I even offered to get handcuffed as well.”
A friend of Joey’s named Sienna Freidinger actually filmed the video
The Bridgewater Township mayor, Matthew Moench, has promised to work with the police department’s Internal Affairs to conduct an impartial, objective, and thorough investigation.
Already the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has requested that individuals present at the time of the fight and have videos of any part of the altercation contact the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Internal Affairs Unit.
Ebone wants to make sure that this investigation is at the top of law enforcement’s mind. She said in an NBC interview, “It doesn’t take two cops to hold a 14-year-old boy down who is not resisting, while the other boy is just going free and still going off on my son. It just doesn’t make sense.”
In the meantime, according to the mall’s senior general manager Troy Fischer, both Joey and Kye are banned from the property for three years.
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