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N.J. police are under scrutiny for racial bias after breaking up a fight between teens

A pair of New Jersey police officers are facing criticism for how they responded to a fight between teenagers at a shopping mall.

Video of the fight posted to social media shows two teenagers — one Black and one white — get into a scuffle at the Bridgewater Commons Mall, about an hour west of New York City.

Two officers quickly run in to break up the fight. One officer tackles the Black teenager and then handcuffs him with the assistance of another officer while the white youth sits on a nearby couch and watches. Neither of the teens appears to resist the officers.

"Yo, it's 'cause he's Black. Racially motivated," someone says off camera.

When the video ends, the white teen is uncuffed.

The Bridgewater Police Department said in a post on its Facebook page that it was aware of the video and that officers were on hand to respond to the fight because of a tip.

"We recognize that this video has made members of our community upset and are calling for an internal affairs investigation," the post said.

The department said it was asking for assistance from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said its Internal Affairs Unit is investigating the incident in accordance with New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines and Directives. It asked anyone who recorded any part of the incident to contact the unit at (908) 575-3300 or via the STOPit app (using the access code SOMERSETNJ), where people can make anonymous reports to law enforcement.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a tweet that he was concerned by what he saw in the footage.

"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," Murphy said. "We're committed to increasing trust between law enforcement and the people they serve."

Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, said it was an example of "racial bias in policing."

"The swiftness to take down and arrest the Black child, the care shown to the white child," he remarked.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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