Mary and Michael are eager to talk to me, but Betty, their mother, is reluctant to let Michael speak with anyone.
He’s only 17 years old. “He’s my baby,” Betty says.
He’s a senior in high school. He should be planning to attend his prom and looking forward to walking the stage at his graduation in a few weeks, but instead, he and his family have spent the last week and a half living in turmoil.
Michael is the teen in the infamous Citi Bike video with Sarah Jane Comrie, the woman who has been accused of weaponizing whiteness and her tears in an effort to take the bike from the teen in New York City.
Betty has seen video after video of racists and trolls calling her son a “thug” and a “thief” and labeling him as a “man” when, in her words, “He’s just a boy.”
It hurts her that people are saying these things — things that she knows are not true — about him.
He’s only 17. He doesn’t deserve to be going through this.
Betty is upset because she says the narrative has been one-sided.
“No one bothered to contact us to find out Michael’s story,” she said in a low voice during an interview on Wednesday. “They write all of these things about him, but no one bothered to ask him what happened or look at his receipts.”
Michael interjected: “That’s because if they have my side of the story, she doesn’t have a case.”
Mary agreed with him, saying, “Right.”
Throughout the entire 50-minute interview with Betty and her children, she had her phone out watching video after video of conservatives and racists saying negative things about her baby.
She is afraid that someone will try to harm her son or her family.
“No one is helping us,” she said, her voice cracking. “We are poor people. We are immigrants. We can’t afford a lawyer.”
Mary, who is 24, and Michael told their mother that now is their chance to tell his story. Betty agreed only on the condition that their names are changed to protect their identities.
“I don’t want anything to happen to my family,” Betty said. “Do you know what I mean?”
A Bronx tale
Mary and Michael live with their parents and another brother in an apartment in the Bronx.
Mary and Michael were born in the U.S., but their parents are immigrants from West Africa.
Mary, her other brother and both parents work to help contribute to the family income.
“We live in the Bronx, but my brother spends a lot of time in Harlem,” Mary said. “He has friends there.”
On May 12, the date of the incident, Michael and four other teenagers rode bikes from the Bronx to Harlem.
“My brother is an extreme Citi Bike rider,” Mary said proudly. “He is in a group called Citi Bike Angels that sends out free stuff to people who have accumulated a certain amount of points, and my brother has been a frequent Citi Bike rider since 2020 or 2021.”
Michael said it’s a regular routine with him and his friends. They meet up in the Bronx, find the new e-bikes Citi Bike has out, and ride them all over New York City.
Understanding how Citi Bike works
“I use Citi Bike every day,” Michael said. “I use the bikes to get to and from school. If I’m traveling anywhere in the city, even if it’s from here to Brooklyn, my first option is Citi Bike.”
“It’s my preferred mode of transport. It’s like my car,” he added.
Michael said he and his friends, who are all from immigrant West African families, understand Citi Bike and all its programs. They use them because, for teenagers like themselves, it’s a cheaper option than taking the subway from borough to borough.
Michael said that day they walked around the Bronx for 20 minutes before they found the highly coveted but hard-to-find new e-bikes.
They took the bikes to Harlem first, where they stopped riding after 45 minutes.
My parents are immigrants. My mom doesn’t know what to do. She can’t handle any of this.
Michael explained that because his family receives some public assistance, he gets a discount on Citi Bike rides, but after 45 minutes, the rate on the bikes increases.
Michael said he pays for his own Citi Bike account, and in order to avoid the higher charges, he frequently stops his rides before they go over 45 minutes to rest and re-dock the bike. Re-docking the bike resets the timer, allowing him to ride for another 45 minutes before stopping again.
“Even regular Citi Bike riders do this,” Mary explained. “The price goes up after 45 minutes for everyone, so people routinely ride their bikes, dock their bikes, ride their bikes, and dock their bikes again.”
The encounter with Sarah Jane Comrie
Michael said after resting in Harlem for a bit, the boys continued riding into the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They grabbed frozen yogurt and then headed to the Citi Bike docking station at 1st Avenue and E 30th Street near Bellevue Hospital in the Kip’s Bay neighborhood. They docked their bikes at 7:19 p.m. and sat there to rest.
Michael insisted he and his friends never left the bikes unattended. They don’t leave the bikes. Michael said all four of his friends also have the same Citi Bike Reduced Fare membership, so they docked the bikes to stop the timers from going over 45 minutes.
Four of the boys were sitting on their bikes as they rested, but Michael was standing next to his with his hands on the handlebars.
They were there for a few minutes when he said Sarah Jane Comrie approached their group. She initially asked one of Michael’s friends if she could take the bike he was resting on. He politely declined, informing her that they were going to be leaving shortly and using the bikes again.
People started calling me a ‘thief,’ a ‘thug,’ and a ‘Black man.’
She next approached a different boy in the group and asked him the same thing. That boy also politely declined.
Michael was still standing near his bike with his hands on the handlebars.
According to Michael, Sarah Jane Comrie asked him, “Can I please have this bike?”
Michael said he declined.
“No, I’m about to take it back out,” he told her.
Michael said Sarah Jane Comrie then said to him, “I’m pregnant. Can you help a pregnant woman out?”
Michael said he then told her, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’ve ridden this bike all the way from the Bronx, and I need this bike to go back home.”
Michael says that is when Sarah Jane Comrie moved closer to him and his bike, leaned over him, and scanned the QR code with her phone even as he had his hands on the handlebars.
She then pushed her way onto the bike and attempted to remove it from the docking station and take it.
It was 7:24 p.m., and that is when the boys began recording.
You can hear them in the video calling for someone to record Sarah Jane Comrie at the beginning of the footage.
“You know if someone is using something,” Mary interjected emphatically. “There are obvious physical cues to let you know when something is in use or someone is planning to use something.”
Michael insisted Sarah Jane Comrie knew he was planning to use the bike. He said she asked him and his friends to use theirs, and they all informed her they were using the bikes and would be leaving shortly.
We are poor people. We are immigrants. We can’t afford a lawyer.
He said she seemed annoyed that they wouldn’t willingly give up their bikes to her. He also said he believes she wanted that bike as opposed to the others that remained docked in the rack because he had one of the newer e-bikes.
The rest of the interaction plays out in the video. Sarah Jane Comrie, dressed in scrubs bearing the NYC Health + Hospitals logo, removed her work ID badge from her neck, placed it in her bag along with a brown paper bag she was holding and began screaming for help.
The boys can be heard repeatedly telling her it’s not her bike. During the filmed part of the interaction, Michael was able to successfully push the bike back into the dock. He said he then entered the bike’s number into his phone to put the reservation back on his account.
Michael said when Sarah Jane Comrie noticed him doing this, she snatched his phone out of his hand, which is shown in the video.
Michael’s story contradicts the narrative from Sarah Jane Comrie’s attorney
Michael’s story directly contradicts the narrative that Justin Marino — the employment attorney representing Sarah Jane Comrie — gave in a statement he wrote to the New York Post.
In the statement, Marino wrote that Sarah Jane Comrie approached the rack of Citi Bikes and got on “an available bike, which no individuals were on or touching.” Marino also wrote that as Comrie was allegedly backing the bike out of the dock, “a group of about five individuals approached her, saying that the bike was theirs.”
“One or more individuals in that group physically pushed her bike (with her on it) back into the docking station, causing it to re-lock,” the statement also claimed.
Marino originally made public redacted alleged receipts, but as of Wednesday, his apparent Twitter account posted the unredacted receipts showing Sarah Jane Comrie had rented the bike for one minute at 7:24 p.m.
That timestamp matches both the video and Michael’s version of the events.
Michael has receipts, too
Michael provided NewsOne with copies of all his receipts for the bike from that day.
They show he originally rented the bike at 5:53 p.m. He returned it after his final ride at 10:12 p.m.
Each of the receipts he sent for review shows him riding the bike in intervals of 45 minutes or less, re-docking the bike, and then taking it out again a short time later.
The impact of all of this on a 17-year-old Black boy in America
“I can’t say that all of this is not affecting me,” Michael said.
“At first, I felt supported. It was like I went through this thing, people saw the video of it, and they were supporting me,” he said.
But all that changed when Marino put his statement out in the media.
“When those receipts got released, everything flipped,” Michael said. “People started calling me a ‘thief,’ a ‘thug,’ and a ‘Black man.’
“It’s definitely having an effect on me,” he continued. “It’s just like, ‘wow. This is crazy.’”
Michael added: “She did something wrong, and she basically got rewarded for it. She’s made over $100,000 on a GoFundMe. She got all the white conservatives on her side. Everyone who was on my side has just kind of stayed silent.”
Michael’s story deserves to be told
Michael and Mary say that’s why Mary posted a video on TikTok about the ordeal.
They said they were tired of the narrative claiming he tried to take something from Sarah Jane Comrie when it was the other way around.
Mary made the TikTok video telling her brother’s side of the story, and it caught the attention of social media influencers, including Tizzy and ThatGuyDanesh, who shared it on their platforms.
In the video, Mary provided receipts to prove her brother was the one who had rented the bike first.
“I’m unable to wrap my mind around any of this,” Mary told NewsOne.
“My brother has been riding Citi Bikes for three years, and nothing like this has ever happened. My family has never been involved in a situation like this.”
“It’s a lot,” Mary added. “I’m the person that’s appointed to be the representative for my family. My parents are immigrants. My mom doesn’t know what to do. She can’t handle any of this, so it’s up to me to figure out what to do.”
Mary also said she has reached out to attorneys to try to get help or legal representation, but thus far, no one has offered to help.
Why couldn’t she just go and get a different bike?
She said she contacted a prominent civil rights attorney who initially tweeted about the video, but he advised her he doesn’t practice “that kind of law” and suggested she contact the New York State Bar Association for a referral.
“There have been a bunch of roadblocks to getting my brother’s story out there,” Mary said. “He’s only 17. He doesn’t deserve to be going through this. And this woman just comes up and starts harassing a bunch of teenagers.”
Mary said her brother’s friend started recording because they wanted to stay safe.
A mother’s fears for her son
“This situation is really driving me crazy and making me sick,” Betty said. “We have never been in this situation before.”
“We came to this country to make a better life for our kids,” she continued. “We are not thieves. Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we are thieves.”
Betty said Michael had to stay home from school for a few days because of the mental anguish of the incident and all that has come after it.
“As a mother, you don’t want to see your child like that,” she said.
Betty said she was horrified when she first saw the video.
“My reaction when I saw it was ‘oh my God. I almost lost my son in that moment.’ Do you understand me? I am not from here, but we all know this country,” she said. “But how the policemen here do our sons, and our husbands, and our fathers. They kill us.”
“So with a white woman standing right there and screaming for someone to help, if the police had come, and my son was standing there, they are going to shoot him. If he runs, they are going to shoot him.”
“Everyone is taking her side because she is rich, and she is white, and she hired a lawyer, and the lawyer is defending her. They put it all over the television, and no one tried to find out who the boy is who could have lost his life. They didn’t find out who the family is. Everybody just ignored us like we don’t matter.”
“I don’t care how much money that lady is getting because if I were to lose my son, the whole world full of money would not bring him back. Yes, we are immigrants. Yes, we are poor, but we are not thieves. I get EBT because I wish I could afford to feed my children, but I can’t. I work seven days a week. We aren’t hurting anybody.”
Betty got emotional several times during the interview, something for which she repeatedly apologized.
“That lady asked my boy for his bike, and he said no,” Betty said. “Why couldn’t she just go and get a different bike?”
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