Local News

NC NAACP president removed from flight before takeoff

Posted April 16, 2016 6:31 a.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2016 6:25 p.m. EDT

— The president of the North Carolina NAACP was escorted off an American Airlines flight Friday night.

Rev. William Barber was returning to Raleigh from Washington, D.C., when, he says, he was removed from the flight. Barber was scheduled to return after spending Friday in Washington, D.C. as a keynote speaker at a national interfaith event that launched the 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days, according to a statement released Saturday afternoon.

"Like Moral Mondays, the service was to encourage all people of faith to petition directly those who have the power to reverse the immoral policies against the poor, the marginalized and the racially oppressed people in our society," Barber said.

An American Airlines spokesman said Barber's flight turned around before it took off from Reagan National Airport. Barber, however, says the plane never left the gate.

Matt Miller, a spokesperson for American Airlines, explained this confusion. "The plane moved away from the gate and came back. The wheels pushed back from the gate a short distance but came back to the gate."

Barber said a passenger in a seat nearby was talking loudly as the plane filled up and asked the stewardess to request the passenger lower his voice. After requesting assistance from the flight attendant, Barber said he overheard the nearby passenger making "distasteful" and "disparaging" comments about him.

According to Barber's statement, the passenger said he had problems with "those people" and spoke harshly about Barber having to purchase two seats on the plane.

Barber said he stood up and turned around to address the man before the flight crew gave safety instructions but was asked to leave before the flight took off.

"As I heard these things, I became more and more uncomfortable, especially since he was behind me," Barber said. "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. Because he was behind me when he made the comments and because of my disability, the only way I could see him when I tried to speak to him as one human being to another was to stand and turn around."

Airport police said no one was arrested.

"I do not know who made the decision, but a plane official apparently called the police, who came to my seat and said, 'Sir you need to leave the plane.'" Barber said.

Barber said the American Airline employees and police officers involved were "very gracious."

"To those of you who were worried about me, I am fine, physically. Yes, I am not at all happy about what I believe were the real reasons I was the one asked to leave," Barber said. "My training and experiences with non-violent civil disobedience, and my deep faith, however, made my decision to peacefully comply with the order to get off the plane an easy one."