Bridgewater, NJ protesters want probe after police tackle Black teen at mall
BRIDGEWATER — Protesters gathered outside the Bridgewater Municipal Complex on Saturday to support investigating whether police officers acted with racial bias when they reacted to a teen brawl that was caught on video.
Larry Hamm, a New Jersey civil rights activist and president of the People’s Organization for Progress, helped lead Saturday’s demonstration in front of the Bridgewater Police Department.
The family of Z’Kye Husain, a Black eighth-grader involved in the fight, has said that he was standing up for a younger friend against the older teen, who has been identified as Umar Joseph Franco.
Franco is of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent, according to NJ.com. His light complexion has led many people who saw the video to assume he was white.
While the video shows both teens trading punches, when two officers arrive, one guides Franco to a couch while the other tackles Husain to the ground, puts a knee on his back and begins to handcuff him.
The first officer then leaves Franco alone and unrestrained to go assist the second officer in handcuffing the eighth grader.
The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office has been handling the internal affairs investigation.
"I know what the cops did was wrong, so they should have consequences," Franco previously said to MyCentralJersey.com. "I didn't see him resisting at all."
Franco said he then offered to be arrested, too.
Among actions that the demonstrators called for, as outlined by Hamm, was an immediate apology to Husain’s family and a thorough investigation of the Bridgewater Township Police Department, including hiring practices and supervisory records.
In a video statement released Wednesday, Somerset County Board of Commissioners Director Shanel Y. Robinson, a Democrat, said the incident was “upsetting” and that there “must be a full investigation to uncover all the facts and deliver accountability.”
“As the first African American to serve as the Commissioner Director of Somerset County, I am heartbroken by the video that shows an African American teenager being handcuffed by police while the other teenager in the altercation is being treated as the victim,” Robinson said.
"As a mother and grandmother, 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, and my heart goes out to the young people who were involved, and to everyone who has been disturbed by this video."
Robinson said she had reached out to both families to discuss the incident and was hoping to meet with them in the coming days.
In response to the video and review, the state's acting attorney general has issued a memo to police agencies to remind them about policies against "racially-influenced policing."
Bridgewater previously canceled a town hall that had been set for Wednesday, citing security concerns for a large public turnout.
A rescheduled date would be announced once the prosecutor's office review was complete, according to the township's Facebook page last week.