RIALTO – City and business leaders plan to meet with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to discuss what has been portrayed as a racially-motivated incident involving guests here, Mayor Deborah Robertson said at a press conference Tuesday, May 15.
Late last month, a Rialto resident mistook three black guests and one white guest leaving an Airbnb for possible burglars. Officers were dispatched to the home in the 2600 block of West Loma Vista Drive, where they stopped the guests’ car and explained the issue.
One of the renters was Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast. The group was in town for the Kaya Festival at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino.
At no time did any officer use any form of force, handcuff anyone or display a weapon, interim Police Chief Mark P. Kling said shortly after the incident.
Robertson on Tuesday said the officers followed policy in addressing the matter.
“I support the Rialto Police Department’s continued transparency with the public and the news media in documenting events related to the police response on April 30,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.
Video postings of the incident made the rounds on social media, garnering national attention. Prendergast and two other people involved in the encounter say they plan to take legal action against the Rialto Police Department.
“Got surrounded by the police for being black in a white neighbourhood,” the artist Prendergast posted on her Instagram account April 30. “I’m sad and irritated to see that fear is still the first place police officers go in their pursuit to serve and protect, to the point that protocol supersedes their ability to have discernment.”
Marie Rodriguez, the homeowner of the Airbnb property, has said the episode was not racially motivated. She applauded her neighbor, a senior, for calling the police to report something that looked suspicious to her while Rodriguez was at work.
The two have received threats since the incident went viral.
“I firmly believe that this incident was not a case of racial profiling as the national media has portrayed it,” Robertson said. “In the city of Rialto, we challenge our residents to be observant, vigilant and unafraid to say something.”
In response to a letter from Chesky, Robertson proposed ways to prevent similar incidents.
She said she hopes the CEO can encourage local Airbnb subscribers to register their properties as businesses in the city and advise neighbors; update images Airbnb uses of Rialto for web search engines; and promote Rialto’s diversity and cultural history.
City youth and business leaders will be included in these planned discussions, Robertson said.
“The national coverage of this incident reflects a major gap of cultural understanding about our city,” she added. “We take allegations of racism very seriously because we are a dynamic and very diverse city.”