North Carolina civil rights leader Rev. William J. Barber II held a news conference Friday promoting disability awareness after he was kicked out of a movie theater for bringing his own chair to accommodate his disability.
The bishop and former president of the North Carolina NAACP told reporters that he was attending a Tuesday matinee screening of “The Color Purple” with his mother when managers at the AMC Fire Tower 12 Theater in Greenville refused to let him use his own chair in the disabled section and called police to remove him from the premises.
He said that the managers accused him of “arguing,” “disturbing” and trespassing and called for his arrest. He also recalled police officers apologizing to him after escorting him out of the building.
Barber explained that he lives with a rare, debilitating and “dangerous” form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, which prevents him from sitting in or rising from low chairs.
“But our plans were interrupted when the managers of the AMC theater here in Greenville chose to call the police rather than accommodate my visible disability.”
AMC has issued a statement apologizing to Barber and his family for how they were treated and vowing to educate staff members about the theater chain’s policies “to help ensure situations like this do not occur again.”
“AMC welcomes guests with disabilities,” the statement read, according to North Carolina’s WRAL News.
“We have a number of accommodations in place at our theaters at all times, and our theater teams work hard to accommodate guests who have needs that fall outside the normal course of business. We encourage guests who require special seating to speak with a manager in advance to see what can best be accommodated at the theater to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for the guest and those around them.”
Barber added during the news conference that he has spoken “several times” with AMC Theatres Chief Executive Adam Aron, who he believes is “serious” and “sincere” about wanting to improve the experiences of moviegoers with disabilities.
On Thursday, NAACP North Carolina launched an online petition demanding that AMC Theatres take “concrete steps to ensure accessibility” at all of its locations across the country.
“NAACP North Carolina stands in solidarity with Rev. William Barber II who was unjustly escorted out of the AMC Fire Tower 12 Theater simply for needing to use his own chair in the handicapped seating area to enjoy a movie,” the organization said in a statement.
“This incident serves as a powerful reminder that we must create spaces that are inclusive, fair, and respectful of the rights of every individual. Discrimination based on physical abilities has no place in our society, and we must take decisive action to address this issue.”
A representative for AMC did not immediately respond Friday to The Times’ request for comment.