Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Prendergast gears up for battle - Top civil rights attorneys to represent Bob Marley's granddaughter in case against US police

Published:Friday | May 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle/Gleaner Writer
Donisha Prendergast
Donisha Prendergast
Donisha Prendergast, the eldest granddaughter of reggae icon Bob Marley.
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Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of late reggae legend Bob Marley, has secured lawyers to represent her when she brings a case against California's Rialto Police Department.

Civil-rights attorneys Jasmine Rand of Rand Law, L.L.C., and Benjamin Crump of Ben Crump Law, known for their representation of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice, have been retained to defend Prendergast and two other women who say they were victims of racial profiling.

According to documents submitted to The Gleaner by Prendergast's legal team, the motivational speaker and her friends, renowned Nigerian-Canadian visual artist Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan and filmmaker Kelly Fyffe-Marshal, were unlawfully detained by officers with the Rialto Police Department while checking out of an Airbnb on April 30. The document states that the women were lawfully present at the property and were not committing any crimes when a white female neighbour called 911, reporting that she found them "suspicious" because they did not wave to her.

 

MOTIVATED BY RACE

 

According to the document, police reports made by the neighbour claimed three black people were "stealing stuff".

The documents state that Prendergast and her friends were surrounded by several police vehicles with a helicopter hovering above. It further revealed that officers told the women they were under investigation for the commission of a felony and were being detained. The statement goes on to add that although attempts have been made to justify the neighbour's act of calling the police, "the truth is that the caller was explicitly motivated

by race".

To drive home the lawyers' arguments the document stated that the reports given by the woman said that there were three persons checking out of the Airbnb that day, but there were actually four persons, and the fourth person was Caucasian. "This incident was undeniably motivated by the neighbour's explicit racial bias and the police department's perpetuation of that bias. There were not three people checking out of Airbnb, there were four. The fourth person was a white woman. A Rialto Police Department officer is clearly heard on video saying that the caller identified "three suspicious black people stealing stuff". Apparently, the neighbour did not find the same actions of the fourth person - a white woman - 'suspicious'.", the statement read.

In her first statement to the media since the incident, Prendergast described the incident as unbelievable. "The whole experience was surreal. Cop cars rushing in and surrounding our vehicle, closing in on us with their hands on their holsters and ordering us to put our hands up. I'm a filmmaker, and I had seen this movie too many times in America. I watched the ending of Michael Brown. He put his hands up and they fired. I kept my hands down. As a Rastafari woman, no matter what they did to my flesh, I ensured my spirit and dignity would survive," she said. "I chose not to put my hands up, and I lived. This was wrong, and I knew I had the right to be right. When I told my grandma what happened and she watched the video, she had tears in her eyes, and she said, 'Make sure you tell them you are doing this for grandma, too'."

Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan added, "I am an artist a peaceful person ... . The reality of the present in which black lives are threatened on a daily basis is too much to accept. I cannot accept that I cannot sleep at an Airbnb without waking up to face deadly force."

Kelly Fyffe-Marshal shared similar sentiments. "I have seen the treatment of a black woman brutalised by police at Waffle House and of the black men brutalised by police at Starbucks. I make films about these types of social injustice. I never thought I would become the subject - a black woman held against my will because I didn't wave to a white woman when I left an Airbnb."

Attorneys Rand and Crump will request a meeting with the Rialto Police Department interim chief and the mayor to, they say, discuss the officers' actions, to rectify the injustice suffered by their clients, and to ensure the safety of Rialto citizens and guests in the future. They will also request a criminal investigation into the woman who placed the 911 call.