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White woman’s confrontation with Black teen under investigation

Al Jazeera logo Al Jazeera 12/29/2020 Al Jazeera English
a sign on a pole: Demonstrators waving Black Lives Matter flags in Washington, DC [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters] © Demonstrators wave Black Lives Matter flags in support of racial justice [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters] Demonstrators waving Black Lives Matter flags in Washington, DC [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

A confrontation in which a man said a woman tackled his 14-year-old Black son in a New York City hotel lobby as she falsely accused the teen of stealing her phone is under investigation, city prosecutors confirmed on Monday.

Keyon Harrold, a prominent jazz trumpeter, posted a widely viewed video of the confrontation on Saturday at the Arlo Hotel. He said the unidentified woman scratched him and tackled and grabbed his son, Keyon Harrold Jr, at the lower Manhattan hotel where the pair were staying.

“He’s the sweetest, most genuine kid you could ask for,” Harrold said in an interview Monday evening. “I was just appalled at how he was treated.”

The video shows an agitated woman demanding her phone be returned while a hotel manager tries to settle the situation. At one point, the woman appeared to rush forward and said, “I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!”

Harrold said the phone was returned by an Uber driver shortly afterwards.

The confrontation prompted comparisons to recent incidents involving false accusations against Black people.

A white woman was charged with filing a false report for calling 911 and saying she was being threatened by “an African American man” during a dispute with a Black man in New York’s Central Park in May.

That case inspired New York state legislators in June to pass a law that makes it easier under civil rights law to sue an individual who calls a police officer on someone “without reason” because of their background, including race and national origin.

“There are thousands of Black men sitting in prison who have been falsely accused,” Harrold said. “That’s why we have to address incidents like this now, before they become life-altering, life-impacting issues that negatively and devastatingly affect Black people.”

The parents of Keyon Harrold Jr and civil rights lawyer Ben Crump issued a statement Monday, calling on the Manhattan district attorney to bring assault and battery charges against the woman “to send the message that hateful, racially motivated behavior is unacceptable.”

“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,” read the statement.

Crump and the Harrold family also called for a civil rights investigation into the Arlo Hotel “for its implicit bias” in its treatment of the teen.

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 Manhattan District Attorney Cy 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 apologise.

“We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo Hotel,” they said in a Facebook post.

Keyon Harrold is originally from Ferguson, Missouri, and lives in New York City. He has performed with musicians including Beyonce, Rihanna and Eminem, according to his website.

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