Video: Woman falsely accuses Black teen of stealing phone in New York City hotel lobby

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Woman falsely accuses Black teen of stealing phone in NYC hotel
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The encounter was caught on video and has since gone viral, prompting accusations of racial profiling and injustice.

SOHO, Manhattan (WABC) -- A family is calling for the Manhattan district attorney to bring charges against a white woman who wrongly accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone.

The incident, which was recorded on cellphone video, happened in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel on Saturday, where the teen and his father were staying as guests.

The woman's cellphone was later found in an Uber.

"For me, I was confused because I've never seen that lady ever," 14-year-old Keyon Harrold, Jr., told Good Morning America. "At first, I would like an apology. And two, I would ask her why she would do something like this to a kid who has never met you?"

The video has since gone viral and has prompted accusations of racial profiling toward Harrold and his family.

Watch the video that was posted on social media below:

"This incident went on for five more minutes, me protecting my son from this lunatic," the teen's father, Keyon Harrold, a Grammy-winning jazz musician, wrote on Instagram. "She scratched me; she tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!!!"

Harrold told ABC News that he was thrown off that the hotel representative was "basically siding with her" over his son.

"I just wouldn't stand for it," he said. "I'm still in shock, I'm still trying to try to believe, you know, that it happened to happen so quickly...It is just unbelievable that someone would literally have the audacity to assume and wrongly accuse."

Watch: The Harrold family talks to GMA:

Mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in, saying of the incident, "The is racism. Plain and simple."

"It would be horrific at any age, but it's especially offensive that it happened to a child," he wrote on Twitter. "To Keyon Harrold Jr. and his family: I am so sorry this happened to you. Her behavior was an affront to our city's values."

Harrold said his son is still shaken up over the incident.

"He wanted to know how it was his fault," Harrold said. "Basically my conversations are to let him know that son, you're just, you know, continue to live the way you live. We have to do things. We have to change the narrative. We have to change laws. We have to do things that would allow you to literally be the American little boy, 14-year-old minor that you are, that you have rights. You have just as many rights as anybody else walking these streets."

Harrold's mother said she's still waiting to hear from the woman, who she wants to come forward and explain herself.

"Fear, fear came in," Harrold's mother said. "Because if his father wouldn't have been there, what would have happened to my son if the cops had been called?"

The confrontation prompted comparisons to recent incidents involving false accusations against Black people. In May, a Black birdwatcher pulled out his phone in Central Park and captured a white woman calling police to report she was being threatened by "an African-American man."

Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump is calling on Manhattan DA Cy Vance to file charges against the woman in the video.

"As this year of racial awareness is drawing to a close, it's deeply troubling that incidents like this one, in which a Black child is viewed as and treated like a criminal, continue to happen," he said. "Compounding the injustice, the hotel manager defaulted to calling on 14-year-old Keyon to prove his innocence, documenting that we have two justice systems in America and that Black people are treated as guilty until proven innocent. We strongly urge Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. to bring assault and battery charges against this woman to send the message that hateful, racially motivated behavior is unacceptable. This is what it will take to drive change. We also call for a civil rights investigation into the Arlo Hotel for its implicit bias in its treatment of Keyon."

New York City police did not identify the woman, saying only that there was a harassment complaint on file for an incident Saturday inside the hotel. A spokesperson for Vance said the office is "thoroughly investigating this incident" but did not elaborate.

Hotel management said in a posting Sunday they reached out to Harrold and his son to apologize.

"We're deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo Hotel," they said on Facebook.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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