Bridgewater protesters want investigation after police tackle black teenager
BRIDGEWATER — Protesters gathered outside the Bridgewater Civic Complex on Saturday to support the investigation into whether officers acted with racial bias when they reacted to a teenage fight caught on camera.
Larry Hamm, a New Jersey civil rights activist and president of the People’s Organization for Progress, helped lead Saturday’s protest outside the Bridgewater Police Department.
The family of Z’Kye Husain, a black eighth-grader involved in the fight, said he was defending a younger friend against the older teenager, who was identified as Umar Joseph Franco.
Franco is of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent, according to NJ.com. His fair complexion led many who saw the video to assume he was white.
While the video shows the two teenagers exchanging punches, when two officers arrive, one guides Franco to a sofa while the other tackles Husain to the ground, puts one knee on his back and begins handcuffing him.
The first officer then leaves Franco alone and without restraint to go and help the second officer handcuff the eighth-grade student.
The Somerset County Attorney’s Office is handling the internal affairs investigation.
“I know what the cops did was wrong so there should be consequences,” Franco previously told MyCentralJersey.com. “I didn’t see him resist at all.”
Franco said he then offered to be arrested as well.
Among the actions demanded by protesters, as Hamm pointed out, were an immediate apology to Husain’s family and a full investigation into the Bridgewater Township Police Department, including hiring practices and records. supervision.
In a video statement released on 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 facts and accountability.
“As the first African American to serve as Somerset County Superintendent, I am heartbroken by the video which shows an African American teenager being handcuffed by police while the other teenager in the altercation is treated as the victim,” Robinson said.
“As a mother and grandmother, watching incidents like this over the past few years has been especially difficult. For this to 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 anyone who was disturbed by this video.”
Robinson said she contacted both families to discuss the incident and hoped to meet with them in the coming days.
In response to the video and the review, the state’s acting attorney general issued a memo to police departments reminding them of policies against “racially influenced policing.”
Bridgewater previously canceled a town hall that was set for Wednesday, citing security concerns for heavy public turnout.
A rescheduled date would be announced once the prosecutor’s office review is complete, according to the township’s Facebook page last week.
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]
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