Police are investigating an encounter between a Black jazz musician at a New York City hotel and a woman who falsely accused his son of stealing her cell phone.
The incident occurred Saturday afternoon, when 40-year-old Keyon Harrold was returning to his room at the Arlo Hotel in Soho. Harrold, a Grammy Award-winning musician who’s worked with prominent artists like Jay Z, Rihanna, and Common, had been staying at the hotel for artistic inspiration, according to the New York Times. As he walked into the lobby with his 14-year-old son, a woman who Harrold told the New York Times he’s never met before accused his son of having her phone and demanded that he give it back.
Harrold caught a little more than a minute of the incident on video, and posted it to social media, where the clip went viral. As of Monday, the video had over 1.5 million views on Instagram. The musician told the Times that he felt the young woman, who appeared to be white, had racially profiled his teenage son. In the video, he faults hotel management for not stepping in and questioning the woman’s baseless accusations.
“This incident went on for five more minutes, me protecting my son from this lunatic,” Harrold wrote on Instagram, where he posted the video. “She scratched me; she tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!”
Though the clip only shows part of the incident, the video ends with the woman lunging at the camera.
“Now watch as the manager advocates for the lady who is not even a hotel guest, insisting and attempting to use his managerial authority to force my son to show his phone to this random lady,” Harrold continues. “He actually empowered her! He didn't even consider the fact we were actually the guests!”
Harrold said that hotel management later told him the woman’s phone was eventually found. An Uber driver allegedly found her phone in his vehicle and returned it to the hotel’s lobby.
The New York City Police Department told VICE News that a complaint report for harassment has been filed in the incident, but did not have any update on the investigation. The NYPD did not immediately respond to questions about the woman’s identity.
Keyon did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment. The Arlo Hotel also did not respond to a request for comment but published an apology for the incident on social media.
“No Arlo guest — or any person — should be subject to this kind of behavior,” the hotel said in an Instagram post. “We are committed to making sure this never happens again at any of our hotels.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump chimed in about the incident on Twitter Monday, calling on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to bring charges of assault and battery against the woman in question. The attorney said that Harrold and his wife are also calling on the DA to bring charges against the woman.
“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,” Crump said in a statement. “We also call for a civil rights investigation into the Arlo Hotel for its implicit bias in its treatment of Keyon.”
A spokesperson for Vance’s office told VICE News that they’ve begun looking into the encounter.
"Our office is thoroughly investigating this incident," Danny Frost, Vance’s director of communications said in a statement Monday.
Harrold’s experience in Soho is the latest high-profile example of Black people encountering and documenting overly vigilant white people who falsely accuse them of wrongdoing. Several similar situations have gone viral in the last two years, sparking funny hashtags and birthing the “Karen” meme. In May, a New York City white woman accused a Black bird watcher of threatening her life after he asked her to put her dog on a leash. In 2018, a white woman in Oakland went viral for calling the cops on a Black family enjoying a barbecue at a public park, and that same year, a white woman in San Francisco called the cops on an 8-year-old girl selling bottled water in the park to raise money for a trip to Disneyland.