In Brief

Scrutiny of Bridgewater mall fight leads to A.G. warning on racial profiling

By: - February 18, 2022 2:28 pm

Matt Platkin speaking in Trenton after he was nominated as the next attorney general on Feb. 3, 2022. (Edwin J. Torres | New Jersey Governor’s Office).

In response to the outcry surrounding the actions of police officers who handcuffed a Black teen at the Bridgewater mall, acting Attorney General Matt Platkin reminded law enforcement in a letter Friday of a directive banning “racially influenced policy.”

Platkin, who assumed the role of the state’s chief law enforcement officer on Monday, notes in the letter — addressed to all law enforcement chiefs — that the 2005 directive bars officers from considering a person’s race or ethnicity when deciding whether the person has engaged in criminal activity.

Platkin’s letter says he will not comment on the specifics of the incident seen in the video, noting it is under investigation by local authorities.

“Regardless of that investigation’s outcome, even the appearance of racially disparate treatment is detrimental to community and law enforcement relations, and to public confidence in the criminal justice system,” he wrote.

The 56-second video shows two teenagers — identified by MyCentralJersey.com as Umar Joseph Franco, a Hispanic 15-year-old, and Black eighth-grader Z’Kye Husain — fighting, first verbally then physically. When officers arrive on the scene, Franco is on top of Husain. Officers pull Franco off and one leaves Franco seated on a nearby couch while the other officer pins Husain to the ground and handcuffs him.

The video ignited a firestorm over the disparate treatment given to Husain compared to Franco. The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the officers’ handling of the scuffle and looking into whether racism played a role in officers cuffing Husain.

Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “deeply disturbed” by the recording. Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench said he is “completely confident that the prosecutor’s review will be impartial, objective, and thorough,” and thanked the public for “refraining from jumping to conclusions.”

Social justice advocates and police accountability groups decried the incident, citing studies that show police are far more likely to use force against Black suspects than whites.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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