3 Black Women Detained By Police for Checking Out of Airbnb With Luggage

This story is absolutely shameful. Four women, three black, were seen leaving a home in Rialto, California with suitcases. A white woman called the police. They were detained.

The four of us packed our bags, locked up the house and left. As you can see 3 of us were Black. About 10 seconds later we were surrounded by 7 cop cars. The officers came out of their cars demanding us to put our hands in the air. They informed us that there was also a helicopter tracking us. They locked down the neighborhood and had us standing in the street. Why? A neighbour across the street saw 3 black people packing luggage into their car and assumed we were stealing from the house.

When the police sergeant arrived he said they ‘didn’t know what Airbnb was’ and declared that they were lying. The women showed their Airbnb confirmation. They got the property owner on the phone. But “they didn’t know what she looked like on the other end to confirm it was her” so the women were detained for 45 minutes.

Now this isn’t a travel provider’s racism at issue. And it doesn’t speak to anything other than how our expectations can be confounded every day. Whether it’s young people or women riding up in domestic first class, the traditional province of middle aged white male business travelers, or now people checking out of a house in a neighborhood where homeowners expect their neighbors to look like them — as deplorable as this incident is it makes me think that Airbnb is even more important.

We see people checking out of a hotel and that’s normal. We need to get more used to people checking out of homes in our neighborhoods. Because that means getting used to more types of people, more people who ‘look different’, and that happens by making it more commonplace.

It’s a reminder that anti-Airbnb ordinances may have in part deplorable motives. And hotels spending money on front groups to lobby against Airbnb should be ashamed of themselves too.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. they probably should have told their neighbors they were going to Airbnb their house, but still I agree it’s ridiculous.

  2. See Something, Say Something.
    Neighborhood Watch is all about this sort of thing. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out terribly well though. It’s rather like the folks that are arrested, for using $2 bills. Good intentions. Bad situational awareness.

  3. @JL: The homeowners have no obligation to let their neighbors know what they do with their house.Your suggestion will invite two possible outcomes: an unexpected home break-in and an audit or a steep fine from the county for failing to collect occupancy tax.

  4. At first I was ready to agree. I will also state that I feel for the women involved.
    1, There were 4 women, one was not of color. I understand she was also detained.
    2, I was once barred from entering the apartment building I lived in in NYC because of Police action. When the action was over I determined that a nosy neighbor saw a man that picked up my laundry in a sack and called Police reporting a suspected robbery or burglary. The suspect was not of color,

  5. Wow. Disgraceful. I am all for concerned neighbors who watch out for one another. But the neighbor didn’t use any (un)common sense and comes off looking like a total idiot. I mean, would thieves make it so apparent, in broad daylight, with suitcases? Also, the neighbor could have just walked over and asked the guests what was going on. The neighbor could’ve handle it in a very nice way, showing concern for all parties. But no, she went on the presumption of race and bigotry. Reminds me of the math professor with the equation who was actually (not) formulating a terrorism plot.

  6. KimieA: And the math professor you mention is ITALIAN! But the very white woman sitting next to him thought he was Arabic, so she thought he was a terrorist. Ridic.

  7. Fonzi: Gary also extensively covers accommodations, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

  8. The problem wasn’t the idiot neighbor. There will always be idiot neighbors whether they are racist or not. The problem was the responding officer was apparently so much of an ignoramus that he somehow never heard of airbnb.

  9. Fine the neighbor for making a false report and the cost of all the resources utilized. Have all the officers go back to training.

  10. 1, There were 4 women, one was not of color. I understand she was also detained.

    Are you really going with the “because there was one white person, it couldn’t have been racism!” argument?

    I was once barred from entering the apartment building I lived in in NYC because of Police action. When the action was over I determined that a nosy neighbor saw a man that picked up my laundry in a sack and called Police reporting a suspected robbery or burglary. The suspect was not of color

    Ah, the “in a completely different situation, there wasn’t racism, so this can’t be racism either” argument. Equally convincing.

  11. @ Fonzi – The only agenda I see here is yours, as in you are only content if the blog expresses no opinion on racism as it is a non-issue in the travel industry since, quite obviously, you have never had to experience any of it yourself.

  12. nothing about the skin color, but news/politics people had to jump on it not to waste a good “crisis”

  13. How about tell us about travel deals and leave the race-baiting to the real pros, i.e., the MSM.

  14. @Billy Bob – Agreed. The police response to burglary is progress is always a priority to them. A neighbor saw some suspicious people outside of another neighbor’s house and called the police. What is it everyone says nowadays – if you see something, say something. But hey, Gary, if it make you feel like a big man to call the concerned neighbor and the police racist – more power to you.

  15. @Mike L, the question is why were these women considered “suspicious people”? People come out of houses with suitcases all the time. I have done it many times myself. If the neighbor was unaware that the house was being used as an AirBnB, then they evidently did not know the owners well enough to know that these could not have been guests of the owners while they were there. If they are concerned neighbors, then they should have known that the same people were in the house since at least the night before. Pretty rare for burglars to spend the night and then waltz out of the house in broad daylight.
    What was it about these people that made the neighbor suspicious of them? Hmmm, what could it be?

  16. “people checking out of a house in a neighborhood where homeowners expect their neighbors to look like them”

    I think it was more they did not look like the owners and if the neighbor did not know the owner was renting their house and saw someone leaving with luggage, what would you do?

  17. Billy Bob- this blog is RARELY about “travel deals” and more about credit card deals where you can earn points and miles. I have only seen a handful of articles where you can actually USE the miles and only a few more where you can purchase a travel deal….this blog is mostly about weird travel arrests, complaining about the CEO’s and policies for mileage & points redemption and which credit cards are offering a bigger signup bonus….and that’s okay since it is his blog and he’s welcome to post whatever he wants, we, as the readers, have the option to not read it.
    I don’t see this as race baiting, rather just an article about the weird stuff going on with travel…yes, there ARE racists in the world and YES, people need to be aware of it, particularly those readers who may be people who aren’t white! There are articles about folks who have problems every day because they aren’t white and had the audacity to travel….the only way to change behavior is to call people out on it and make them see how ridiculous they are.

  18. Welcome to the Kafkaesque world!

    The 3 black women don’t have THE privilege – the 4th one (the white woman) is guilty by association!

  19. The caller probably knew what the neighbors looked like and saw people leaving the house who were not his neighbors. This is not a race issue. This happened because the homeowner did not notify his neighbors he was running a hotel. I am as open minded as they come but in this day and age I probably would have done the same thing without knowing what the homeowner was doing with his house.
    Almost all communities have zoning rules and those running a lodging for hire must register as such, allowing for notification of neighbors. Airbnb is just another clever way to circumvent the rules. Unfortunately this will happen again.
    Homeowner should be fined and invoiced for the cost of the response.

  20. I once told my neighbor’s brother to ” just wait right here ” on the porch while I make a phone call . I then called my neighbor who laughed and said ” He really is my brother .” My point being that if I see someone I don’t recognize going in or out of my neighbor’s house I will have questions and I might even call the police . This applies regardless of luggage or race .
    Maybe the reporting neighbor was only trying to be a good neighbor . Or maybe not…

  21. I hope my neighbor calls the police if they see something suspicious going on around my house. 9 out of 10 times it probably isn’t a problem. Oh wow, people were detained 45 minutes. Get over it. Though the police should have been able to resolve this more quickly. Kudos to the neighbor and hexes to you who complain about it. Seriously, get a life, and be more concerned about bigger issues.

  22. farnorthtrader: I don’t know my elderly white neighbors across the street that well but they mentioned to me a week or two ago that this week they are going on vacation for a week. Yesterday I saw a few young black people walking out of their home into a car with several suitcases. Ours is a neighborhood of almost exclusively elderly white residents. The neighbors had not told me they were expecting guests while they were away, so I called the police when I saw what was going on. Please explain to me what I did wrong. I don’t understand why the police sent seven cars and a helicopter but I as a neighbor did the right thing calling them. The fact that the people leaving the home were black was actually relevant. Stop being so PC.

  23. Seems people’s response to any odd situation is to cry for help rather than taking care of things themselves. If @Harry really is the neighbor, you should have gone and talked to them rather than calling down an armed assault on them. It’s a cruel thing to do to someone – siccing the cops. A last resort.

    Even so, I have to agree with you that the cop’s response was even worse. I’ve seen good cops who, in iffy situations, walk right up and just ask what’s going on. Two guys (legally) carrying rifles down the street – rather than calling out swat this cool cop just had a conversation with them (it’s on youtube). But, hey, aiming heavy weapons at innocent people is way more exciting.

    And, @Gary, thanks for an interesting, travel-related, article. Perhaps it will help other travelers to think when they’re in similar situations: “Is there a nosy neighbor going to unleash hell on me? What can I do to minimize my exposure here?”

  24. @farnorthtrader. “What was it about these people that made the neighbor suspicious of them? Hmmm, what could it be?” Hmmm… maybe the fact that they don’t live there? What the hell would your neighbors do if they say 4 strange people in your house?

  25. I would have called the police as well. I know my neighbors, so if I can see that they are not home and see strangers leaving, I’m calling the police…regardless of their color.

  26. In reply to Total
    I think you are totally wrong and just enjoy arguing.
    I was not there and do not know all the details but please, think logically. If the women of color call it bias, what does the person not of color call it?
    The personal situation I described was an exact parallel. The issue was not my being barred, it was police detaining and questioning the person with the sack of laundry. He was not of color.

  27. All of you who think that I am off base and that my neighbors should call the cops when I have people stay at my house, just let me know where you live so I can avoid living there. If my neighbors saw 4 strange people in my house who brought their luggage in one night, spent at least one night there, and then took the same luggage out the next morning, I would hope that they would not do anything. Would you still be okay with calling in police and having them detained if the four people had been 70 year old white people. They are still strangers, right? Oh, and if you decided to stay at an AirBnB or perhaps your brother’s or parents’ house, you would be happy to explain to a squadron of police why you were there?
    Who I invite to stay at my house is none of your business. Do you not respect the right to privacy? Or is the right to privacy only for white people.

  28. If three white people were seen leaving a home in a black neighborhood carrying suitcases, good neighbors would call the police on them, too.

  29. You know, these incidents are happening more commonly (or maybe the media just puts more in our faces) and we kind of become desensitized. I mean I still do get annoyed when I see it but this incident hit closest to home than any of the others before. I actually know one of the girls (Donisha Prendergast- Bob Marley’s granddaughter) and I was in complete shock. I would have never expected it to happen to someone I know but alas, here I am, aware of the fact that this reality isn’t that far off at all. Typically I travel with my caucasian boyfriend so I never really think about such an incident happening to me. However, now this stirs in me some anxiety for my own solo travels.

    I wondered to myself, regarding this particular case, howcome the neighbors didn’t know it was an AirBnb rental or if the neighbor just didn’t really even care that these young ladies were just guests. I just can not imagine renting my space and then having all of this drama come out of it. Really ridiculous if you ask me. Then there comes the cop saying he doesn’t know AirBnb…really? Come on now. Even after the phone call to verify the fact that they rented the home?

    In an update I heard that Airbnb offered the ladies an apology but I really hope that they are compensated for such an embarrassing situation.

  30. @Toni-Ann: Why would AirBnB need to compensate anybody? Were they the ones who called the police? AirBnB likely didn’t even know the race of the homeowner or the guests.

    Have you ever stayed at an AirBnB? It is not at all uncommon for folks to not want their neighbors know they rent their home out. There are perfectly valid reasons for not wanting them to know.

    And believe it or not, there are a lot of people who have never heard of AirBnB. There are far more that also don’t have ESP. How can the cop know that the person he was speaking to was the homeowner? You could had me a phone and announce I was speaking to Moses and who would be the wiser?

    What happened was just an unfortunate set of circumstances. Stop trying to suck money out of it.

  31. Yes. I have stayed at an AirBnB before. What does that have to do with my not knowing that the hosts/homeowners typically don’t want their neighbours to know? Actually, that just puts the guests at risk (as we can see in this situation). But that lack of awareness doesn’t only pose an issue for guests but also the neighbours themselves. Who knows the true character of anyone. Yes I know Air BNB has their rating system and the hosts ultimately decide their guest but once in a while you’ll find a bad apple regardless. When many people pass through the airbnb home who knows what risk the neighbourhood could be in? Wouldn’t it be wiser to simply inform your neighbours? (My 2 cents).

    Regarding the verification of the homeowner, of you want to look at it from that perspective, what about the fact thay they showed the police their bookings and confirmations as well? What should be the proper resolution for that then? It’s just really embarrassing to me that you could have all these confirmations and still feel like you’re a criminal. Why so many police? There were even talks of a helicopter on the scene. Overkill maybe?

    And in retrospect I I admit you’re right. Air BNB can’t control their hosts, that’s true, but how can they set the rules in a better way that could help another recurring incident such as this? The girls I know too have filed some sort of document against the police. And since we both know it’s an unfortunate incident, what are the steps forward from this point? Who should be accountable? It can’t just be that it’s unfortunate and there’s no accountability…

  32. @Tori-Ann: There are at least a dozen valid reasons why people would rather not let people know they are running an AirBnB and virtually all of them have nothing to do with neighbor or guest risk. As a neighbor, you run pretty much the same risk whether I let my apartment out via AirBnB or I rent it out to tenants on a long-term basis.

    Why would you believe police are qualified to forensically verify a printout that purports to be an AirBnB booking confirmation? These people could have been squatters or burglars who were prepared with some printed garbage in case they were caught. Criminals these days are not always stupid. You’d be complaining the police were negligent if someone burglarized your house and the police did nothing because the culprits had some easily forged papers.

    Why so many police on the scene? Come on, are you for real? They think they might have three burglars and have no idea if there aren’t more still in the house. You’re not living in the days of your great-grandparents any more. These days a cop shows up at a house over a loud music complaint and gets shot to death as soon as he rings the door bell. Maybe on your planet it’s different.

    What exactly can or should AirBnB do? Issue holographic booking confirmations? Take every host and / or guest and fingerprint them? Be realistic. Besides, this is but the first time something like his has likely happened so we don’t need to get all Chicken-Little about things at this stage. The only logical step forward I see is to be prepared just as the three guests were in this situation. Keep copies of your documentation at hand and be patient and let the police investigate. If the police are abusive, use unlawful violence or take illegal action, then you have something to seek recourse over. But getting all indignant and uncooperative when the police are attempting to do their job in a professional manner, as unintrusive as possible, will just end up blowing up in your face.

    The fact is that it is just unfortunate. And there’s nothing to be accountable over. Some things have no solution. Some things need no solution. This is one of them.

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