Months after he was removed from a flight out of Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport, civil rights leader, and North Carolina NAACP head Rev. William Barber is suing the airline, alleging he was the victim of racism.
Barber, who burst onto the national scene after his electrifying speech at this summer’s Democratic National Convention, filed suit against American Airlines on Wednesday, claiming that the April 15 incident was steeped in “racism and discrimination,” as he put it during a press conference. According to the Washington Post, Barber is asking for both monetary compensation as well as airline policy changes.
ABC affiliate WTVD reported in April that Barber was removed from a flight from Washington, DC to Raleigh, North Carolina, after a series of heated interactions with a fellow passenger on his flight. Barber first asked a flight attendant to request the other passenger speak more quietly. “But,” he is quoted as saying in a statement at the time, “as she left, I heard him saying distasteful and disparaging things about me. He had problems with ‘those people’ and he spoke harshly about my need for ‘two seats,’ among other subjects.”
As the plane began taxiing away from the departure gate, Barber and the other passenger continued to argue, prompting the civil rights leader to stand in order to face the seats behind him.
“At this time the stewardess had already walked up and asked him to please sit down, back in his seat,” the unnamed other passenger said in a separate interview with WTVD. “He grabbed her wrist, and she immediately backed away and he sat down. A couple minutes later, the officer came onto the flight.”
He was escorted from the flight, and while he was subsequently rebooked on a new flight back to North Carolina, where he was not given a hotel room for the night. According to the Washington Post, he claims in his lawsuit that a black American Airline employee told him “this tends to happen a lot” and that they were “sick” of the airlines acting this way.
Barber, who has lead North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” civil rights protests, claims that “this differential treatment was based on race, as other passengers noted and stated to American Airlines employees. The suit also states that “Reverend Barber was calm, complied with all directives from the flight crew, and did nothing that remotely warranted being ejected from the airplane.”
A representative from American Airlines said to me in a statement that, “American does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we are committed to providing a positive travel experience for all of our customers. We are not able to discuss the specifics of this matter as it now involves litigation.”