Singleton: Shopping Mall Brawl Continues To Show Racial Disparities In Communities

NEW JERSEY — The shopping mall brawl that has gone viral is being seen by New Jersey community leaders — including Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) — as an example that "we have a ways to go" in addressing racial disparities in communities.

In videos now seen by millions online, two teenage boys — one Caucasian, age 16, and one African-American, age 14, — are seen escalating a verbal altercation into a physical fight at the Bridgewater Commons Mall over the weekend. 

When police officers intervened to break up the fight, the Black juvenile is seen placed on ground, face down and being handcuffed behind his back.

Meanwhile, the white juvenile is told by a police officer to sit on a couch while she assists another officer in handcuffing the Black teen. Despite showing his hands in front of him to be handcuffed, the Caucasian boy is not. 

"Any time there is disparate treatment by law enforcement, my reaction, as an elected official, and as a father of black boys, is a reminder to me that these situations show the realities that those in the minority community have experienced with police in the past and the reactions of some police still today," said Singleton, who represents Bordentown in the Legislature. 

"My hope is that there is a thorough and swift investigation into this matter. The public has grown weary of investigations that take forever," added Singleton.

The Bridgewater Township Police Department says they are adhering to strict protocols as the investigation continues.

"We recognize that this video has made members of our community upset and are calling for an internal affairs investigation," the Police Department said in a statement earlier this week. "The officers were able to respond quickly to this incident and stop it from escalating because of a tip we received from the community."

The Department has requested assistance from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office in investigating the incident.

"The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office has been notified of an incident at the Bridgewater Commons Mall involving a physical altercation between two juvenile males and response from Bridgewater Township Police officers," the Prosecutor's Office said in a statement. "The matter has been referred to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office Internal Affairs Unit who is investigating the incident in accordance with New Jersey Attorney General guidelines and directives."

Singleton believes that the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office is the proper venue for the investigation since such county agencies are tasked with law enforcement management. He is confident that New Jersey Attorney General's Office is actively monitoring the process which Singleton again stressed should be done swiftly. 

Governor Phil Murphy referenced the incident on Twitter on Tuesday, saying he is "deeply disturbed" by the situation.

"Although an investigation is still gathering the facts about this incident, 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," wrote Murphy.

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

"The NAACP-NJ State Conference was disappointed today to see still another police action irrefutably showing the disparate treatment of African-Americans in our police institutions," president Richard T. Smith said in the statement. "Despite years of talk about bias training and accountability, the video of what happened in Bridgewater cannot be denied."

Smith cited that the reaction when police found two youths fighting was to "aggressively throw the Black child to the ground, knee placed around the neck area and cuffed behind the back."

"At the same time, the white youth, at least equally at fault for the fight as his Black counterpart, was carefully eased onto a couch and treated like a victim," he said in the statement. "This is something African-Americans in New Jersey experience too often and the NAACP-NJ State Conference calls for these officers to be immediately removed from the police force pending an investigation."

"The time for the Governor and Attorney General to put a stop to this type of behavior by the police is now," Smith concluded.

Singleton believes that there should be "accountability for actions if the officers acted outside the proper scope" of their responsibilities.

The lawmaker noted that while there could not be criminal charges filed against the police officers if they are found to have acted inappropriately, there could be other actions taken against them including losing their job or civil rights violations filed.

The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office is requesting that anyone who was present at the time of the incident, and may have recorded any part of it, contact the Internal Affairs Unit at 908-575-3300, or via the STOPit app.

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