Keyon Harrold Sr.
On Dec. 30, I stood in Manhattan, New York’s City Hall Park where 14 years prior, Kat Rodriguez (my son’s mother) and I watched a performance by saxophonist Miguel Zenon. I remember that day, and being at that location because it was also the day that Kat told me that we were pregnant, and that I was about to embark on my dream job of fatherhood.
Last month, I returned to that area for a news conference — one for the sole purpose of protecting my son, whom I had spent years trying to shield from the world’s injustices.
The day after Christmas, my son and I were walking through the lobby of New York City’s Arlo Hotel, when a woman falsely accused him of stealing her cellphone, pulled hotel management into her biased rant and tackled my 14-year-old without provocation.
Hotel staff demanded to see my son Keyon Harrold Jr.’s phone.
My first thought was to protect him from the verbal and physical attacks we were both facing.
I’ve seen comments that ask: “Why didn’t you just give over the cellphone?” The answer is simple: Because my son and I have rights.
There are many nuances that play into the societal problems that I, as a Black man, often deal with. What if I had lost my cellphone, walked into an upscale establishment and wrongfully accused a 14-year-old white child of stealing my phone, then assaulted that child and his father? Would the establishment’s manager have enabled me to attack them and allowed me to leave the establishment only to realize later that I lost my phone in an Uber? Would it have taken several days to locate and identify me? I will leave it to you to ponder and then answer those questions.
False accusations against and assumptions about Black people are frequently at the root of run-ins with the law and have been used to justify the killing of Black and brown people at the hands of both civilians and police. My son and I were robbed of civil respect. My word was of no value. My son was racially profiled and wrongfully accused by a person who left her phone in an Uber.
My freedom to simply get Boxing Day brunch is now a part of the traumatic canon of staying in a hotel while Black. A random woman deputized the Arlo’s manager to assist in a disastrous trauma.
Video that I posted on Instagram of the incident shows that I tried with all of my faculties to get the manager and the person who attacked us at the hotel to hear me. What did I want them to hear? The truth that we did not have her phone. That should have either ended the conversation or, at the least, taken it in a direction that was civil, nonconfrontational and just.
We were presumed guilty and required to comply with white authority. We were forced to accept injustice as normalcy and the rule. Where is justice? There is often no accountability for false accusations.
We have witnessed the tragic story of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was tackled and killed by a self-deputized neighborhood protector. Even after the 911 operator told killer George Zimmerman not to follow the teen, he pursued Trayvon, shot him to death and avoided conviction.
And we know the seminal tale of Emmett Till, who was killed in 1955 at the age of 14 after being accused of flirting with a white woman. The white men who beat him and dumped his body into a river were also not convicted.
Policing the USA:A look at race, justice, media
These stories echo the banality of many who have asked why I didn’t attack her. It is an unspoken truth that if I, as a Black man, had been equally violent, this horrific travesty would not have brought about the awareness that can lead to change. Chances are it would have ended in tragedy for myself and my son. And even if it hadn’t, what kind of an example would I have been to my son if I had done that?
My child was accosted, wrongfully accused and assaulted while I was present. This issue is not wholly about the person who committed the violent attack. It is about how a system is programmed not to believe Black people, and to believe everyone else.
The manager’s first response was to empower an erratic person with baseless claims. He irresponsibly used his hotel job as the basis to enable and authorize a person to violate us. At no time did he look at my son and me as people who deserved to be heard. At no time did he try to stop her aggression. At no time did my words or my son’s words mean anything to his establishment even though I was a paying customer.
This incident is part of a systemic problem, embedded in the instincts of too many.
I want to end with the following questions:
Why weren’t we protected in America?
Why weren’t we afforded respect in America?
Why weren’t our words trusted or even considered in America?
Maybe the answer is because of the systemic racism in America.
What would have happened to my son if I had not been there to protect him?