The chaotic arrest of a black teenager at the Philadelphia Zoo on Thursday was captured on video and posted to Facebook, where it has drawn more than 270,000 views and sparked concerns about a national issue: White people alerting the police to black people.
The video shows one of the zoo’s public safety officers, a black woman, shouting at another safety officer, a white woman who allegedly got Philadelphia police involved.
“This is what you did!” the black safety officer yelled at the white safety officer as police held the boy, 14, face-down on the ground and tried to put him in handcuffs. “This is what you want. Is this what you want?”
“I only asked him to move!” the white safety officer shouted back. “I asked him to move.”
praying for my black young men out here….these kids was just trying to make money for their football team 😢😢😢
In the background, people could be heard saying, “What’d he do?” and “I’m sick of this.” Passing drivers stopped and honked.
Efforts to locate the boy, who was led away from the scene in handcuffs, or his family have been unsuccessful. Police said the boy was cited for disorderly conduct, along with a 53-year-old man. The man, whom TV stations said was not with the group but got involved in the police encounter, was also charged with resisting arrest.
The video, which lasted about a minute and 30 seconds, doesn’t show what was happening before police approached the group of boys.
Some people who commented on the Facebook video said the boys regularly sold water at the plaza outside the zoo’s gates near 34th Street and Girard Avenue, where the arrest occurred. The woman who posted the video could not be reached, but wrote that the boys were trying to raise money for their football team.
A zoo spokesperson, Dana Lombardo, said the group was not affiliated with “any legitimate local sports team” and was not selling water bottles at the time. The group had told people they played for the North Philadelphia Aztecs championship football team, according to CBS3, but head coach Greg Bonner told the TV station the boys had never been on the team.
“I wish the boys the best and don’t want anything bad to happen to them,” Bonner told the station. “We don’t know what they are using the money for. Those funds could be a means for dinner, but it’s disheartening they’re using a well-known brand in order to do that.”
Lombardo said zoo staff had asked the group to leave the plaza.
“There have been a number of incidents with this particular group, including soliciting money from zoo guests, throwing rocks at a zoo staff member just the previous day, and harassing another female public safety officer just before this incident occurred,” Lombardo said.
The group began to leave, she said, but made a “threatening remark” to one of the zoo’s safety officers, who then flagged down a Philadelphia police cruiser that was driving by.
The zoo did not detail what the alleged remark was or whether the arrested boy was behind it. The zoo also didn’t say whether the white safety officer in the video was the one who alerted police.
Lombardo said the safety officer who flagged down police wanted help dispersing the group. She said the interaction between police and the group then “unexpectedly” led to the boy’s arrest.
“This is an unfortunate and unusual incident at the zoo,” Lombardo said. “Philadelphia Zoo is an integral part of the City of Philadelphia and is proud of the diversity of the staff who work here and guests who visit.”
Neither Lombardo nor police shared the exact time of the police response.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross told CBS3 that violations such as selling water without a permit are enforced by the Department of Licenses and Inspections and that the city has an obligation to enforce that violation consistently.
“If it’s done in the Northeast and in the Northwest and we don’t have that type of enforcement, then we have an obligation to look at ourselves and evaluate,” Ross said.
Unlicensed street vendors in the zoo area were warned a month ago to obtain licenses or cease activity, a city spokesman said Monday. It’s unclear, however, whether the group of boys was present for that warning or whether they had been cited previously (the city said it can’t pull up that information without names).
The incident at the zoo has drawn comparisons to other cases in which black people were viewed as threats. Two weeks ago, about 10 police officers confronted a black family over a minor dispute with white staff at a West Philadelphia movie theater. Police blamed a radio miscommunication on the large response; the family said it was racial profiling. No one was arrested.
In various U.S. cities this year, videos have also captured white people calling police on a black girl selling bottles of water, black men barbecuing in a park, a black woman sleeping in a common dorm room, and, in Philadelphia, black men sitting at a Starbucks.