Activists block Al Sharpton from speaking at Bridgewater, NJ mall conference
BRIDGEWATER — The Black teenager who was seen in a viral video getting tough treatment from police at Bridgewater Commons mall got to speak his piece during a news conference on Wednesday.
But nobody got to hear from the Rev. Al Sharpton, the polarizing civil rights activist and media personality who was scheduled to speak at noon with the teen's family and attorney.
That's because an angry group of Black activists interrupted the start of the conference by calling out Sharpton and nationally renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump as outsiders.
The conference was then hastily moved into the Bridgewater Administration building, which also houses police headquarters, but Sharpton left before it started.
If township officials had hoped interest in this story would eventually fade away, the chaos and commotion outside the municipal building on Wednesday indicates otherwise.
A federal lawsuit is being filed on behalf of the Black teen who was handcuffed and subdued by police while a lighter-skinned teen he was fighting with Bridgewater Commons mall was seated on a sofa without handcuffs.
During the news conference, 14-year-old Z’Kye Husain said he doesn’t understand why he was treated as the aggressor in the fight, and why Black people are treated differently just because of the color of their skin.
“I feel like I shouldn’t be lucky that I wasn’t hurt or killed by people that have promised to protect us, and that’s why we’re here today so we can change that and not be lucky to not be treated like animals,” he said.
He said after watching the video of the incident, which has prompted widespread condemnation from the public and elected officials, including Gov. Phil Murphy, he was confused that police were treating him differently than the other teen.
A new precedent is needed
Crump said it is wrong that police treat people differently based on the color of their skin and the hope is the tragic incident with Z’Kye will represent “a new precedent here in Bridgewater, New Jersey, a new precedent here in the state of New Jersey, a new precedent in the United States of America.”
The teen's mother said she initially assumed both her son and the other teen involved in the fight had been handcuffed but when she saw the video and it became clear they were treated very differently she was shocked.
“Just watching the difference of how they were both handled, it’s mind-boggling. I just don’t understand it,” Ebony Husain said.
She said people need to open their eyes to the fact that inequality and bias continue to cast a shadow on law enforcement and “in order to fix, solve, change the situation, you have to admit there’s a problem, that’s the first step to change.”
She called on Murphy, the Bridgewater police chief and the mayor to enact change and end police bias.
Legislation, A1720, has been introduced in the Assembly that calls for bias training for all New Jersey police officers, and a spokesperson for the governor said they have no comment on pending legislation.
Z’Kye’s father Jihad Husain said his son is a good student, loves sports, helps people in the community and visits his grandmother almost every weekend and “’the way that the cops treated him was as if he was a bad kid, as if he were doing drugs or something of that nature and I don’t support that.”
“I was in the military, I fought for equality, this is not justice, this is not equality," he said.
The other teen, identified as Umar Josephy Franco, who is of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent, previously expressed surprise he was not handcuffed and Z’Kye was.
Crump stressed it’s important to file a lawsuit because “it has to be documented that we will hold people accountable who discriminate against our children, because our children’s lives matter.”
Chaos at the news conference
As the news conference was about to begin a man who identified himself as "Africa," of the New Africa Black Panthers, began yelling over a portable loudspeaker system, saying he was tied of people like Al Sharpton coming into the neighborhood.
“We don’t have no money, we don’t have no platform we don’t have no CNN, we don’t go to MSNBC every day, we’re the ones catching bullets, we’re the ones sleeping on the floor to feed our kids," he said.
He said people cannot afford rent from the jobs they get but people like Sharpton “they come into our neighborhoods, they’re all millionaires. Al Sharpton is a millionaire, I’m broke, we are all broke, they don’t breathe this air we breathe."
Several people tried to reason with Africa and two other men to no avail.
Sharpton disappeared and eventually, the news conference moved inside the Bridgewater Administration building.