A civil rights leader was escorted by police out of a North Carolina movie theater after he insisted on using his own chair for medical reasons, prompting an apology from the nation’s largest movie theater chain.
The incident occurred Tuesday in Greenville during a showing of “The Color Purple.” The Rev. William Barber II said he needs the chair because he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a disabling bone disease.
Barber, 60, is co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign, which is modeled after an initiative launched in 1968 by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Barber previously served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, leading protests over voter access at the Statehouse that got him and more than 1,000 people arrested for civil disobedience.
Barber said in a news release that management at the AMC theater asked an armed security guard and local police officers to remove him after he stood firm on using the chair. Barber said he agreed to be escorted out after officers said they’d have to close down the theater and arrest him.
Barber said he left his 90-year-old mother behind with an assistant to watch the film. Video of the incident shows Barber talking to an officer before walking out of the theater.
“How ridiculous is it that someone can’t be accommodated as the Americans with Disability Act requires and instead management would have police escort me out?” Barber said in the news release.
“With all the issues and real battles going on in the world, for managers of a theater to decide they can’t accommodate you and would rather remove you from a theater is absurd, which is why I prayed for them,” he added.
Greenville police said in a statement that a caller from the theater said a customer was arguing with employees and the theater wanted him removed. After a brief conversation with a responding police officer, “Barber agreed to leave the theater voluntarily,” police said. No charges were filed.
AMC apologized in a written statement, saying it welcomes and works hard to accommodate guests with disabilities, WRAL reported.
“We are also reviewing our policies with our theater teams to help ensure situations like this do not occur again,” the statement said.
Barber said he’ll meet next week with the chairman of AMC Entertainment Holdings, Adam Aron, after Aron reached out to him. Barber said he is “hopeful it will lead to just and good things for those with disabilities.”
Besides helping to run the Poor People’s Campaign, Barber also leads a nonprofit called Repairers of the Breach, which focuses on issues including voter suppression and poverty.
He was elected in 2005 to lead the state chapter of the NAACP, stepping down from the role in 2017. He also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.