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Viral video of New Jersey mall fight prompts accusations of racial bias in police response

New Jersey mall fight
Posted at 9:52 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 12:31:58-05

A viral video showing a fight between two teenagers at a New Jersey mall has sparked allegations of racial bias by a local police department.

The fight between boys with different skin tones occurred at the Bridgewater Commons Mall near Somerville. WPIX-TV in New York City reports that one teen was Black, and the other was Latino.

Video shows the teens having a heated verbal discussion before the two started shoving.

At one point, the lighter-skinned teen tackled the Black teen, pinning him to a couch. He then threw the Black teen to the ground.

When police arrived to break up the fight, a female officer pulled the Latino teen away pushed him to the couch without handcuffs. Another officer pressed the Black teen to the ground and knelt on his back.

Later, the female officer came over and also knelt on the Black teen's upper back while they placed him in handcuffs.

The Black teenager, Kye, spoke to several New York City news stations. He asked that his last name not be used. He told WABC-TV that the fight began when he chose to stand up for a friend who was being picked on by the teen he ended up fighting.

"I was, like, confused. Like why (the police) saw me as the bad person, like me, as an aggressor," he told WCBS-TV. "If they don't know how to treat the situation and deal with the situation equally and fairly, then they shouldn't be able to deal with the situation at all."

The video prompted a response from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

"I'm deeply disturbed by what appears to be a racially disparate treatment in the video," Murphy said. "We're committed to increasing the trust between law enforcement on the one hand and the communities they serve on the other."

The NAACP New Jersey State Conference has called for the officers involved in the incident to be removed from the force, pending an investigation.

"When Bridgewater police found two youths fighting, the immediate reaction was to aggressively throw the black child to the ground," their statement read. "At the same time, the white youth...was carefully eased onto a couch and treated like a victim."

Kye's mother, Ebone, says she's "not happy" about the situation and wants the two officers involved to "become unemployable."

"Maybe they could have broken up the fight and maybe set them aside and called their parents, no cuffs, no aggression, dealt with them like they were teenagers," she said.

The Bridgewater Township Police Department said in a Facebook post that it knows the video of the incident upset members of the community. They're asking county prosecutors to conduct an internal affairs investigation.

The Somerset County prosecutor's office internal affairs unit says it is investigating the fight itself and the ensuing police response.

The department also says it's received additional videos from community members. They're encouraging anyone with video from the incident to get in touch with them or the prosecutor's office.