Civil Rights in Columbia

N.C. NAACP leader Barber removed from flight in D.C.

The Rev. William Barber talks to protesters in Raleigh in February. On Friday he was removed from a flight in Washington, D.C.
The Rev. William Barber talks to protesters in Raleigh in February. On Friday he was removed from a flight in Washington, D.C. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, is questioning why he was removed Friday night from a flight in Washington, D.C.

Airline officials said it was a case involving a “disruptive passenger.”

American Eagle Flight 5382 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, according to Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines. 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 the details of the disruption.

Barber said in a statement Saturday that the incident involved a verbal altercation with another passenger who made disparaging remarks about him and his physical disability. Due to a bone-fusion arthritic disability, Barber said he has to purchase two seats.

Barber, who was returning from speaking at an event, said at his request a stewardess asked a loud nearby passenger to “bring it down a little bit.” But Barber said the other passenger said “he had problems with ‘those people’ and he spoke harshly about my need for ‘two seats,’ among other subjects.”

“As I heard these things, I became more and more uncomfortable, especially since he was behind me,” Barber said in the 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.”

Barber said that because of his disability he couldn’t turn around to face the passenger. So Barber got up from his seat “to speak to him as one human being to another.”

“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,” Barber said of the conversation he said took place before the crew had given safety instructions.

Barber said that an airline official told him he had to leave the plane. Barber said that police officers and airline employees treated him graciously, and some were openly troubled by the decision to remove him from the plane.

“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.

“I turned the matter over to my legal counselors, one here and one in Washington DC.”

Although Barber questioned his removal, the N.C. Republican Party issued a statement Saturday faulting the leader of the Moral Mondays protests for delaying the flight for other passengers.

“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,” said Michele Nix, vice chair of the state GOP.

Barber’s removal from the flight delayed his return to Raleigh, where he was the keynote speaker Saturday morning at the national conference of the Network for Public Education. Barber joked about his late arrival.

“I’m so glad to be here this morning,” Barber told the audience. “Don’t worry about some things y’all have heard. Everything is all right. I know y’all saw a little report, but some people get a little bothered sometime and say things they don’t need to be saying, but we’re here this morning.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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