Lawyer: Black teen in Bridgewater, NJ mall fight was standing up to bully
BRIDGEWATER — The family of a Black teenager who was forcefully detained by two police officers after a mall fight with a white teen has hired a well-known civil rights attorney.
Ben Crump has been retained by the family of Z’Kye Husain, an eighth-grade student who was tackled to the ground and handcuffed at Bridgewater Commons mall after a fistfight with the other teen, whom Crump said is a high school junior.
That teen was not restrained but was left briefly unattended on a couch as both officers secured Husain's hands behind his back.
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has been leading an internal affairs investigation, as video of the encounter went viral. Many have questioned the stark difference in how the township officers handled the teens. In response to the video, the state's acting attorney general issued a memo to police agencies to remind them about policies against "racially-influenced policing."
Dealing with a flood of attention since the weekend incident, Bridgewater Township postponed a town hall that had been slated for Wednesday.
"In light of the volume and nature of communications that have been received by our Township staff and Police Department, the decision has been made, in the interest of protecting the safety of the public and staff, to postpone the Town Hall meeting scheduled for this evening.
Based on the nature of these communications and the number of prospective attendees, the Township believes that it cannot reasonably guarantee the safety of the attendees and staff if the scheduled Town Hall were to proceed," according to the town's Facebook page.
The rescheduled meeting would be announced once the investigation by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office is finished.
Crump released the following statement on behalf of the family:
“Z’Kye was defending a younger friend in the 7th grade who was being bullied by a much older 11th grader when this incident unfolded. Z’Kye, an 8th grader, was noble to defend his friend from bullies; however, it is evident that officers immediately assumed that because of the color of Z’Kye’s skin, him acting nobly was not even in the realm of possibility. That video says it all.
You can watch the video at this link but be warned that there is course language.
“We are so thankful that Z’Kye made it out of this incident with his life. It is no secret that dealing with police in America is more dangerous for Black men – and teenagers – than it is for white men. Z’Kye was no more of a threat to those officers than the white teen who fought with him. This is another example of the kind of racial bias that we need to root out of our system of policing. These officers need to be reprimanded and retrained to overcome the implicit bias that results in unequal – and often dangerous – treatment of Black people.”
In a written statement on Tuesday, NAACP-NJ State Conference President Richard Smith said the video showed disparate treatment of African-Americans, "Despite years of talk about bias training and accountability."
On Tuesday, Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench said that the Prosecutor's Office was carrying out the review with full support of the Bridgewater Township Police Department.
"I want to thank the public for its patience in refraining from jumping to conclusions while an investigation is pending. I also want to thank the brave men and women of the Bridgewater Police Department for their continued service, and for keeping our public safe in today’s challenging environment," Moench said.
Bridgewater police addressed the situation on its own Facebook page Monday.
“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."
The state Office of the Attorney General on Tuesday confirmed it was “aware of the incident" and in contact with the Prosecutor's Office.
Anyone who was present at the time of the fight and may have recorded any part of it can contact the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Internal Affairs Unit at 908-575-3300 or via the free STOPit app, which allows anonymous reports including videos and photos.
STOPit can be downloaded to a smartphone at the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, access code: SOMERSETNJ.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated on Feb. 18 to report on the memo issued by the acting attorney general.