Two weeks ago, Channing Cowan, 17, and his classmates visited the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, Colo., to fulfill an assignment from Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colo. In an attempt to see how people responded based on the teens’ skin color, the project required each person to approach 10 strangers and ask to borrow their cell phones to call the teens’ mothers, under the guise that their phone batteries had died.
For Channing’s white classmates, every stranger either handed over their phones or offered to place the call. However, all 10 strangers denied Channing the use of their phone.
During one interaction, filmed by Channing’s girlfriend, the teen was falsely accused of stealing a woman’s wallet. After Channing was rejected by a female subject, two men came charging toward Channing. “They were yelling, ‘Wallet, wallet, wallet!'” Channing’s mother, Alice Cowan, tells Yahoo Lifestyle: “One said, ‘If you don’t give it to me, I’ll kick your a**.”
The men, who were accompanying the last woman Channing approached, mistakenly believed the teen had stolen her wallet. One held Channing’s arm while the other frisked him, even as the students rushed over to defend their classmate.
“A store employee came running out carrying the woman’s wallet — she had left it inside a store,” says Alice.
The woman apologized to Channing, but the man did not. “Channing never touched this woman — how could he have stolen her wallet?” says Alice. “Since this happened, he cut off his braids because he doesn’t want to stand out.”
The family will file a police report against the men who grabbed, restrained and frisked their son. “When he was little, Channing was stopped by the police for skateboarding home from school,” says Alice. “He knows to stay calm in situations like this, to get home alive, and let mom and dad handle the situation.”
Channing submitted the video with his school project to illustrate what the family believes is racial profiling. “Fear shouldn’t cause people to panic,” Alice tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But this is what can happen when you walk outside with a certain skin color.”
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