Police Called on Black People Leaving Airbnb Because They Didn’t Wave to a White Woman

Facebook screenshot courtesy of DiversityInc
Facebook screenshot courtesy of DiversityInc

Three Black friends were stopped by seven police cars and tracked by a helicopter because they didn’t wave to a white woman. Yes, really.

A group of four people, three of whom are Black, were leaving an Airbnb in California with their luggage when they were almost immediately stopped by police. A neighboring woman called the authorities because she became suspicious of the strangers, who she thought were robbing the house, because she didn’t recognize them and they didn’t wave to her.

The police sergeant who arrived at the scene did not believe the group was rightfully renting the home as an Airbnb. He also said he had never heard of Airbnb.

Kells Fyffe-Marshall, one of the women in the group, posted her account of the incident on Facebook, along with a video:

“At first we joked about the misunderstanding and took photos and videos along the way.

“About 20 minutes into this misunderstanding it escalated almost instantly. Their Sergeant arrived… he explained they didn’t know what Airbnb was. He insisted that we were lying about it and said we had to prove it. We showed them the booking confirmations and phoned the landlord… because they didn’t know what she looked like on the other end to confirm it was her.. they detained us – because they were investigating a felony charge – for 45 minutes while they figured it out.”

The whole situation sounds like a joke — but according to Fyffe-Marshall, it really isn’t a laughing matter: “The trauma is real. I’ve been angry, fustrated (sic) and sad. I was later detained at the airport. This is sanity.”

“The cops admit that the woman’s reason for calling the police was because we didn’t WAVE to her as she looked at us putting our luggage into our car from her lawn,” Fyffe-Marshall wrote.

The Rialto Police Department said in a press release its officers did nothing wrong, followed protocol and treated the group with respect. The department now faces pending legal action, though, and said it cannot comment further. One of the women involved in the incident was Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of the late singer-songwriter Bob Marley, the police statement confirms. Fyffe-Marshall is also identified as one of the people involved in the legal action.

Rialto Police Lt. Dean Hardin identified the 911 caller as “an elderly white woman,” according to CNN.

“I cannot get into the caller’s head, beyond that she thought she was seeing a crime,” Hardin said when asked if he believed the call was racially motivated.

The crime, of course, would be “Airbnbing While Black” — similar to “Starbucks While Black,” “Golfing While Black” and “Working Out While Black.”

The nature of the 911 call and the exaggerated police response seems ludicrous, but it falls in line with recurring bias against Black people by police.

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report on stop-and-frisks in Philadelphia found, for the first half of 2017, 69 percent of people stopped were Black, and less than a quarter were white. Philadelphia is about 43 percent Black.

Officers conduct unfounded frisks at a fairly high rate across the board. Forty-nine percent of frisks for Latinos were unfounded; for Blacks it was 41 percent, and for whites, 38 percent.

Studies in multiple cities have shown that Black people are more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses, including trespassing, than white people. In Minneapolis, Black people are 8.7 times as likely as white people to be arrested for a low-level offense. In New York City, Blacks and Latinos collectively make up 54 percent of the population — but constitute more than 90 percent of those arrested for trespassing. And in Jersey City, N.J., Black people are close to 10 times more likely than white people for low-level offenses.

But who’s more likely to have contraband? Among Black people who were frisked in Philly, according to the ACLU study, 9.8 percent had contraband — compared to 10.5 percent of white people.

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