Billboard reports that should have been an uneventful stay for Donisha Prendergast, the eldest grandchild of Bob and Rita Marley, in the suburban community of Rialto, California, instead became an unexpected news story that has unfolded under increasingly familiar circumstances.
Prendergast was visiting southern California during the last weekend in April working as the head of documentation and live social media for Kaya Fest, a reggae festival celebrating socially conscious music, founded/presented by Donisha’s uncle Stephen Marley’s Fruit of Life Productions. At about 12:30 p.m. PT on April 30, immediately after checking out of a Rialto Airbnb property that Prendergast had rented with Canada-based black colleagues, documentary filmmaker Kelly Fyffe-Marshall and visual artist Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan, along with Prendergast’s white assistant, the quartet were in a car near the Airbnb property when they were surrounded by seven police vehicles. The cops exited their cars, hands on their guns’ holsters, and ordered the Prendergast party to put their hands up as a helicopter hovered above the scene. Law enforcement was responding to a neighbor’s call claiming three black people were “breaking into” a nearby home. The neighbor’s suspicions were further raised, she told police, when the trio refused to smile at her and wave hello.
She explained her actions to Billboard in an interview immediately following a May 10 press conference in New York City, which she held with her colleagues and attorneys Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem.
An accomplished actress, documentarian, motivational speaker and activist who led the 2014 campaign to prevent developers from building houses on Pinnacle, a 500-acre hilltop site and Jamaica’s first self-sustaining Rastafarian community founded in the 1940s, Prendergast did not comply with the Rialto policemen’s command to put her hands in the air. She explained her actions to Billboard in an interview immediately following a May 10 press conference in New York City, which she held with her colleagues and attorneys Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem.
“I grew up as Rastafari, knowing there was an alternative to the system. There is a lot about the system that I don’t acknowledge, so their power as policemen is subjective and I am not subjected to it,” Prendergast commented. “When I was ordered to put my hands up I looked at one of the policemen and said are you serious? From the first few minutes, they knew that they were wrong but there is no protocol to deescalate the situation. They never drew weapons and at no moment was I afraid; I just felt sorry for them because they looked like robots repeating protocol. The police got a call about a potential burglary in process and they sent seven vehicles, a helicopter and not one black officer but they knew it was three black people there. What did they expect would happen? We have to revise this protocol because it has resulted in many destructive ends; I am sure that one of the reasons why the police were so well behaved in this case is because of who I am.”
Donisha Prendergast, 33, is the daughter of Peter Prendergast, former Jamaican soccer referee and Sharon Marley, Rita Marley’s eldest child who was adopted by Bob Marley when she was a baby. Sharon and her siblings, Bob and Rita’s children Ziggy, Cedella and Stephen, formed the Melody Makers in 1979. They released 10 studio albums and won several awards including three Grammys before disbanding in 2002. From the time Prendergast was a baby she was a part of the Melody Makers’ touring entourage and she calls the experience “the most amazing years of my life. When my family was on the road it was new cities, new people, strange interactions that stimulate your mind,” she happily reminisced. “I was backstage or at the side of the stage and when they played (Bob Marley’s) “Could You Be Loved” or “Look Who’s Dancing” all of us kids would come out and dance on stage. From a very early age I overstood (understood) the empowerment that music gives you to help heal humanity; listen to my grandfather’s music, it’s that kind of empowerment.”
. “No lawsuit has been filed yet but we have put them on notice of future litigation and requested all of the documents, evidence and information. We want to investigate for ourselves exactly what happened that day and to what extent Donisha, Kelly and Komi’s constitutional rights were violated,” Rand explained at the Harlem press conference.
Attorneys Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, said that they are asking the Rialto Police department to conduct an internal investigation into the officers, who detained Prendergast and her party for approximately 45 minutes. “No lawsuit has been filed yet but we have put them on notice of future litigation and requested all of the documents, evidence and information. We want to investigate for ourselves exactly what happened that day and to what extent Donisha, Kelly and Komi’s constitutional rights were violated,” Rand explained at the Harlem press conference. “But that’s not enough. Under the state of California laws and the laws of most U.S. states, if a person places a false or misleading call to the police, they can be held criminally liable for endangering the lives of others. We want the Rialto police to open a criminal investigation into the woman who placed the racist call. When I heard the neighbor refer to Kelly, Komi and Donisha as suspicious, I thought it’s the same thing that made Trayvon Martin suspicious to George Zimmerman and that’s the color of their skin.”