North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber II was kicked off a late flight Friday, after reportedly having a few words with a racist passenger. And the incident has led to harsh criticism of Barber by state Republicans.
The president of the state NAACP was escorted off American Eagle Flight 5382 traveling from Washington, D.C to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, after flight attendants pronounced him a “disruptive passenger,” according to the Charlotte Observer.
Barber said he purchased two seats on the flight so he could sit comfortably because of a painful arthritic condition that affects his spine. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in his early 20s, and explained his condition to Mother Jones in a 2014 interview.
The civil rights leader said the man sitting behind him began loudly complaining about “those people” needing two seats and making other derogatory assertions about Barber and his disability.
“As I heard these things, I became more and more uncomfortable, especially since he was behind me,” Barber said in a statement. “The attitude with which he spoke, and my experiences with others who have directed similar harsh, sometimes threatening words, emails, and calls at me, came to my mind.” Rev. Barber said.
Before Barber was removed from the flight, he said he stood to speak to the unruly passenger because he was unable to turn around to face the man because of his disability.
“I asked him why he was saying such things, and I said he did not know me, my condition, and I added I would pray for him,” and spoke to the man as “one human being to another,” Barber said.
An airline official asked Barber to leave the plane at that point, before the crew had given safety instructions, and he was escorted off by police officers and airline employees — who he said treated him graciously.
According to American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller, the American Eagle Flight was scheduled to leave shortly after 10 p.m. Friday from Reagan National Airport when it returned to the gate before departure because of a disruptive passenger. Miller said the passenger was removed and the flight arrived 40 minutes late at Raleigh-Durham International Airport around midnight.
No charges were filed, according to Kimberly Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Miller and Gibbs declined to discuss specific details of the disruption.
Since Barber doesn’t understand why he was removed for addressing the confrontational passenger, he said he would speak with his attorneys about the incident.
Michele Nix, vice chair of the North Carolina GOP said, “I guess Rev. Barber thinks it’s ‘moral’ to inconvenience other passengers wanting to get home to see their families, because he once again thinks his ‘right’ to say and do whatever he wants is more important than other law-abiding citizens who conduct themselves under society’s rules of civil behavior.”
Barber is among several others who have received discriminatory treatment while traveling. Last year, seven Black passengers were removed from a Spirit Airlines flight because of discrimination by white flight attendants, according to the Huffington Post.
Police initially escorted a couple off the Spirit flight, accusing a man of being disruptive when he refused to get up from his seat. Five more passengers — all Black — were removed from the aircraft after they questioned the motives of police and the Spirit Airlines crew.