*Last weekend proved to be a memorable one for North Carolina state NAACP president Rev. William Barber, who was removed from a flight from Washington D.C. on Friday night (April 15).
Commenting on the incident, airline officials told The Charlotte Observer the incident pertained to a case involving a “disruptive passenger.”
According to Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, American Eagle Flight 5382 was scheduled to leave D.C. shortly after 10 p.m. from Reagan National Airport but returned to the gate before departure because of a disruptive passenger. The passenger was ultimately removed from the plane and arrived 40 minutes late at Raleigh-Durham International Airport around midnight, Miller said.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs mentioned that no charges were filed and declined to speak on details surrounding the disruption.
Although Gibbs was tight-lipped on specifics, Barber provided more details on what happened in a statement on Saturday (April 16). According to the civil right leader, the incident on the flight centered around a verbal altercation with another passenger who made disparaging remarks about him and his bone-fusion arthritic disability. Due to his physical disability, Barber admitted that he has to purchase two seats.
At the time, Barber was returning from speaking at an event and said at his request a stewardess asked a loud nearby passenger to “bring it down a little bit.” Despite the request, Barber stated the other passenger made it know that “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.”
Because of his disability, Barber said he couldn’t turn around to face the passenger. As a result, 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 about his conversation with the passenger, which he said took place before the crew had given safety instructions.
From there, Barber went on to say an airline official told him he had to leave the plane. In addition, Barber acknowledged that police officers and airline employees treated him graciously, including those who 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.”
Barber’s removal from the plane and his questioning about it did not gain any sympathy from the North Carolina Republican Party, which issued a statement of its own Saturday.
In the eyes of state GOP vice chair Michele Nix, Barber is the one at fault for delaying the flight for the 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,” Nix said.
While the incident on the plane and his delayed return to Raleigh could’ve ruined the remainder of Barber’s weekend, he ended up joking about it, while mentioning at the Network for Public Education national conference.
“I’m so glad to be here this morning,” Barber told the audience Saturday morning as he served as the event’s keynote speaker. “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.”