According to now-viral video footage from Saturday, April 17, police officers in Perth Amboy, NJ reportedly arrested a Black teenager for riding his bike "against traffic" and without a license. The story broke on the same day that Derek Chauvin was convicted on three counts for the murder of George Floyd.
In the video, at least five officers are seen surrounding a teenager and reprimanding him. "I told you, you guys are supposed to have licenses. The sergeant warned you guys about your bikes," says one officer. The sergeant, who initially stopped the group, begins pressing the teenager to get off his bicycle. After he does, his bike is confiscated and he is handcuffed and arrested. A witness, who filmed and posted the entire interaction, maintains that they were on the right side of the street, and shared footage corroborating his account.
The other bikers at the scene were not arrested but did have their bikes taken away. The name of the person arrested is not public, but the mayor's office described the group as "young teenagers." Christian Orozco, the witness who filmed the conflict published the video on Instagram and TikTok, elaborated in a second Instagram post. "There was a ride out hosted yesterday and we were supposed to ride through towns," he wrote. "We was wheeling around Perth Amboy and was heading out towards Woodbridge Township until 3 cop cars started following us. We were all riding ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE STREET… There was like 2-3 persons on the wrong lane but for the most part we were all on the right lane."
According to Orozco, six cop cars stopped to pull over and confront the teenagers. The friend who was arrested was "upset due to us getting pulled over," and was detained for "being disrespectful." The friend closed his account with some thoughts: "If anyone was in his shoes, we'll definitely feel some type of way. At the end of the day, the PAPD could've handled this situation a lot better instead of taking our bikes and arresting someone."
"This is Perth Amboy, NJ," Amol Sinha, the executive director of the ACLU New Jersey, said on Twitter. "Are the police really arresting kids over bike registrations? Does it really require this many officers to address whatever situation this is? Police CANNOT continue to be our response to EVERYTHING."
In response to Sinha's tweet, Middlesex Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone's office made a statement: "The facts and circumstances of this incident are being reviewed by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office in conjunction with the Perth Amboy Police Chief Roman McKeon and other law enforcement officials from the city of Perth Amboy," the statement read. "Every juvenile being taken into custody by law enforcement in Middlesex County is of the utmost concern to Prosecutor Ciccone and this young person is no different. What occurred before, during and after the incident depicted is under review."
The Perth Amboy mayor's office, which oversees the police department, responded late Tuesday evening stating that they are reviewing the incident, and emphasizing that the video was only "partially captured."
"The incident stems from multiples calls to the police department for a large group of bicyclists riding on various streets through the city in unsafe and reckless manners causing motorists to stop or swerve away from the group, as was demonstrated on the videos," a statement sent to Refinery29 from Mayor Helmin J. Caba's office reads. "Police officers made independent observations of the group of young teenagers and it was decided that police would attempt to make contact with the bicyclists to inform them of roadway safety and their conduct."
However, what is not clear from officials' statements is whether or not the conduct of the officers while dealing with several Black teenagers will be investigated.
After the bikes were allegedly returned and the unnamed teenager was released, another video taken at the police station shows the sergeant talking to the witness. "You know that we told you guys to stay on the sidewalk," she says. He responds that he didn't hear her. "Technically, if I wanted to be an asshole, is your bike registered with us?" she continues. "I don't have to give it back to you. You have the receipt to prove that that bike is your bike?"
New Jersey has no legislation in place mandating that bicycles are licensed. The teenagers say in the video that they were biking in from Edison, which actually mandates that bikers shouldn't bike on the sidewalk — and also has no rules about licensing bikes, either. Perth Amboy, however, mandates that all owners must attach a license tag, which costs $0.50 a year, to their bicycles. Anyone who fails to do this could be imprisoned for up to 10 days.
The video raises obvious questions about why this rule exists, and how it is enforced. "I broke this law last summer when I stopped in Perth Amboy's waterfront ice cream shop on my ride back from New Brunswick," wrote Twitter user @BriHedden. "1. Biking laws shouldn't change from one town to the next. 2. Cops apparently only apply this law to people that are Black.” Other residents of Perth Amboy also wrote that they had never heard of this rule, or heard of police enforcing it.
What's more, at the heels of Chauvin's conviction, it's alarming that officials are still unwilling to take accountability. While the prosecutor's office and mayor both plan to investigate the situation further, the police officer who confronted and arrested a teenager for riding his bike is still working and is being protected by the state in every way possible.