Airbnb officials reached out to the Mayor of Rialto and the Interim Police Chief to set up a meeting to discuss implicit bias and how not to target people of color after several black women were detained and accused of robbing a California vacation home.
Laura W. Murphy Senior Advisor of Airbnb and Janaye Ingram, Head of National Partnerships, said that a conversation about discrimination and racial disparity when dealing with people of color needs to be had after the dramatic scene played out in a Facebook video.
Video of the the tense police encounter went viral and caught national attention.
A white woman reportedly called the police on three black women she saw them leaving an Airbnb home and accused them of stealing as they unloaded their luggage into their vehicles. At least seven police swarmed the neighborhood, even a helicopter was called to the scene. The police detained the women and refused to believe that they were vacationers, even as they tried to explain and even called the home owner.
Murphy and Ingram expect to meet with city officials so that moving forward, incidents like this won’t happen again.
“While Airbnb and our host and guests had no part in contacting law enforcement or the police response, we believe it is important to address this matter. We are deeply disturbed by the public reports suggesting that the police department’s response was dictated by the guests’ race. As African-American women who have seen the inequitable treatment of people of color, we know that these kinds of incidents are often rooted in implicit and explicit bias. They are hurtful, discriminatory, traumatic and must end. We also deeply believe that all people of goodwill have an opportunity to work together to root out bias and ensure these kinds of incidents do not happen again.
“To that end, we write today to request the opportunity to meet with you and your colleagues to discuss Airbnb and the work the private and public sector can do together to fight discrimination. As two women who have a background in social justice issues and who are intensely engaged in Airbnb’s anti-discrimination work, we know that matters regarding discrimination and inclusion cannot be addressed only on a case-by-case basis. The private sector and leaders like you all have an important role to play to make sure that these kinds of events do not happen again. We look forward to the chance to meet with you and discuss how we may work together to make all communities fair and safe for residents and travelers alike.”
Kells Fyffe-Marshall, a film director, posted the exchange on Facebook. And while she laughed the incident off at first, she became increasingly frustrated when it proved tough to reason with police.
The Police department has responded saying that during the 22-minute encounter:
“…police officers determined the people were Airbnb renters and were at the residence as guests. Through reasonable inquiry, officers learned the residence was an unlicensed Airbnb in the City of Rialto. At no time during the encounter did officers use any form of restraints with the involved people and actually allowed them to exit their vehicle and assist officers in locating the owner of the unlicensed Airbnb to confirm their had been no crime committed. The people were immediately released without incident and the officers cleared the call at 1308PM.”
Fyffe-Marshall, Donisha Prendergast, Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan are planning to sue the Rialto police department. The Police Department said they have received notice of pending litigation.
Prengergast, identified herself to police as the granddaughter of singer Bob Marley.
The encounter is the latest example of friction between law enforcement and minorities. Last month, two black men in Philadelphia were arrested after a Starbucks employee called police because they hadn’t bought anything.