An unidentified woman in New York City made two big mistakes on December 26: She wore Birkenstocks in the dead of winter, and—more importantly—falsely accused a black teen of stealing her iPhone. The altercation was caught on video by the boy’s father, jazz musician Keyon Harrold, who uploaded it to Instagram.
The New York Times reports that Harrold, a Queens resident, had been staying at SoHo’s Arlo hotel since mid December, hoping that a change of scenery would get the creative juices flowing. He received harassment from a white woman instead. On Saturday, Harrold and his son entered the hotel lobby when they were accosted by the woman, who accused Harrold’s son of taking her iPhone and demanded he return it.
“This is my phone,” Harrold’s son, Keyon Harrold Jr said.
“He took the case off!” the woman said, pointing at the boy and cowering behind the hotel manager. “That’s mine. Literally, get it back, please.”
“Are you kidding me?” Harrold retorted. “You feel like there’s only one iPhone made in the world? Get a life.”
Harrold suggested the woman use Find My iPhone, a feature that enables iPhone owners to track their phone’s location and remotely perform safeguards in the event that an iPhone is lost or stolen. The woman said that the feature was turned off. The manager, meanwhile, asked Keyon Harrold Jr. to produce the phone in question, insisting that he was simply trying to settle the matter. Harrold, naturally, didn’t see it that way.
“He’s not leaving!” the woman shouted. Undeterred, Harrold and his son promptly left the lobby, but not before the woman lunged at the two multiple times.
“This incident went on for five more minutes, me protecting my son from this lunatic,” Harrold wrote in the Instagram caption accompanying the video. “She scratched me; she Tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!!! [...] Now think about the trauma that my son now has to carry.”
Harrold also accused the manager of “empowering” the woman instead of helping him, an actual guest at the hotel. He told the Times that “management didn’t even question her as to why she would even think he had the phone.”
The woman was reportedly a guest at the Arlo Hotel earlier that week but had already checked out a few days prior to the incident. The hotel told Harrold that an Uber driver found the woman’s phone later that day.
So... she lost her phone in an Uber, just as countless others have in the past, but assumed that she lost it in a hotel she was no longer staying in and that the culprit was a random black teen.
The Arlo Hotel is apparently mortified by the incident and has issued a statement apologizing to Harrold.
“We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo Hotel,” read a statement on the hotel’s official Instagram page. “In investigating the incident futher, we’ve learned that the manager on duty promptly called the police regarding the woman’s conduct and that hotel security intervened to prevent further violence; still, more could have been done to deescalate the dispute.”
Whoever runs the account, however, didn’t bother disabling comments.
“I‘ll be sharing your establishment as a business not to patronize with my list of 500k Black and brown women since it’s clear it’s unsafe for people that look like me and my audience,” wrote Tiffany Aliche, a Black financial advisor with over 400,000 followers on Instagram alone.
While neither the hotel nor the police has released the name of the woman involved in the incident, it’s only a matter of time before internet sleuths track her down and attempt to get her fired; Central Park Karen, the Redux. Given the way these vigilantes move—for better or for worse—it’s a wonder that people still think they can get away with accosting Black people on camera without squandering their reputations in the process. But while the internet never forgets, it does move on. Meanwhile, a Black child is now more aware than ever that his goodness, his presence at a chic hotel, or having a talented father who has worked with Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Snoop Dogg are of little consequence to many. At the end of the day, he’s Black, and for racists the world over, that alone presents a valid threat.