January 2, 2024
Source: NBC News
AMC Theatres has apologized to a civil rights leader who was escorted out of a screening of “The Color Purple” in North Carolina by police after he tried to bring in his own chair he uses for an arthritic disability.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, a minister and former president of North Carolina’s NAACP state chapter, attended a screening of the highly anticipated new film “The Color Purple” at AMC Fire Tower 12 in Greenville with his 90-year-old mother Tuesday.
Barber, 60, has ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic form of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine, according to the National Institutes of Health. He brought his own chair to the theater, something he has done in the past because he’s unable to sit in a wheelchair or in low chairs, he told the Religion News Service.
“My chair has been everywhere,” he told the outlet. “In hospitals, in restaurants, in airports, in the White House and in Congress. It’s a need that I have because I face a very debilitating arthritic condition.”
The Greenville Police Department said it received a call regarding trespassing at the theater at 3:20 p.m. The caller said a customer was “arguing with employees, and they wished to have them removed from the business.”
A police supervisor spoke with the caller at the theater, then with Barber, who left voluntarily and the incident was resolved with no charges filed, police said.
Video of the incident shared on social media showed an officer speaking to Barber in the dark theater full of attendees. Barber was seated and said, “I’m not resisting. I’m not a violent person. I’ll walk out. Take me by my arm and walk me out.”
The officer then asked someone nearby if they’d assist him out. Barber made his way out of the theater using two canes to walk.
Later in the clip, he addressed the camera while speaking to a theater employee.
“I’ve been on Broadway, I’ve been to the White House with this chair. They called an officer of the law, the AMC theater in Greenville, North Carolina, they would not make amends to simply do the right thing. But we’ll deal with it,” he said.
Management at the theater claimed the chair was a fire code violation and the theater only accommodates wheelchairs, Barber said in a news conference Friday. He told employees that he had never had an issue bringing that chair elsewhere, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, requires theaters to make accommodations.
One of the managers asked him why he was making a “big deal” out of the issue, he recalled. He said he challenged the managers because being denied entry “is constitutionally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”
“It should have never been a police escalation situation, never been threatened to be charged with trespassing,” he said. “First of all I paid to go. And paid to make sure that they had the handicapped spaces. The law is clear Title III [of the ADA] prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.”
AMC apologized Wednesday, saying that it welcomes guests with disabilities and that its leadership has personally spoken with Barber.
“We sincerely apologize to Bishop Barber for how he was treated, and for the frustration and inconvenience brought to him, his family, and his guests,” said Ryan Noonan, vice president of corporate communications at AMC Theatres.
“AMC’s Chairman and CEO Adam Aron has already telephoned him, and plans to meet with him in person in Greenville, NC, next week to discuss both this situation and the good works Bishop Barber is engaged in throughout the years,” he added.
The statement noted that theaters have accommodations in place for guests with disabilities, and that the company is reviewing its policies to “ensure that situations like this do not occur again.”
Barber said the incident is a reflection on how people with disabilities are treated in America.
“I’m not ashamed to be differently abled,” he said Friday. “This is not about me personally. This is about what systemic changes and policy changes to training need to be done to ensure this happens to no one.”
He said that police acted respectfully in the incident, noting describing a Black man as arguing and trespassing, “could have had bad results in the wrong hands.” He said the officers involved apologized and left the scene once they were outside the theater.
Barber said he has forgiven AMC Theatres and noted that the Greenville police chief has also reached out and asked to have a sit-down talk.
“This should have never happened,” Barber said.