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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Cellphone video making the rounds on social media shows police handcuffing a black teenager who was selling bottled water with friends by the Philadelphia Zoo.
It happened around 12:30 p.m. Thursday in West Philadelphia when a white security officer there reportedly flagged down police.
“She apparently said something to the effect of, ‘They were panhandling and may have been on and off the property,’” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
Zoo officials say she did so because the group allegedly made a threatening remark when she tried to disperse them.
So far, the video has amassed more than 160,000 views on Facebook, with many pointing to this as yet another instance nationally of a white individual calling authorities on a person of color.
Zoo officials say they ask anyone engaging in commercial or aggressive behavior to leave the plaza and add that the same group has caused problems in the past, soliciting from guests, throwing rocks at staff, and harassing another female security officer.
Police, meantime, say they are reviewing the incident objectively.
Some of the children are seen on video striking responding officers as they cite both a 14-year-old boy and a 53-year-old man with disorderly conduct.
That man, not affiliated with the group, had also been selling water nearby and tried to get involved, police say.
“For whatever reason, he decides to intervene and approach and get in the faces of these police officers,” Ross told Eyewitness News. “Now that’s wrong.”
Further complicating matters, investigators say, is that it appears the boys are not part of the group they claimed to be raising money for.
The boys told investigators they play for the North Philly Aztecs championship football team, but head coach Greg Bonner tells Eyewitness News the boys seen in the video have never been part of the organization and that the jerseys they were wearing are older.
“I wish the boys the best and don’t want anything bad to happen to them. 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,” said Bonner. “I know how hard the Aztecs work and this is kind of a black eye.”
Ross says while violations such as selling water without a permit fall under the purview of the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, he understands the outrage when enforcement doesn’t happen across the board.
“Whether you like it or not, it’s done all over the city, so what we have an obligation to do is to be consistent about it. 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,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Zoo released this full statement:
“Yesterday, one of the Zoo’s public safety officers interacted with a group of youth on the plaza outside of the Zoos gates. 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. The Zoo always asks individuals or groups engaging in aggressive or commercial behaviors to leave the Zoo’s Plaza. When asked to leave the area, the group began to move off but made a threatening remark to the public safety officer as a Philadelphia Police Department vehicle was driving by. At that time the public safety officer flagged down the Philadelphia Police Department vehicle and asked for help in dispersing the group. Unexpectedly, the subsequent interactions between PPD and the group resulted in the arrest of one of the individuals involved. This is an unfortunate and unusual incident at the Zoo. 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; we work closely with our neighbors in the West Philadelphia community and the Philadelphia Police Department and will continue to do so.”