Civil rights leader says Greenville movie theater broke federal law over seating dispute

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – An activist and civil rights leader said he felt compelled to fight a Greenville movie theater’s decision to throw him out because other people could also be excluded from public places.

Rev. Wiliam Barber, the former head of the North Carolina NAACP, was removed under police escort on Tuesday from the AMC 12 on Fire Tower Road.

He said the Americans with Disability Act requires movie theaters to accommodate those with disabilities.

Barber, who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis which is a painful form of arthritis, had wanted to use his own chair to watch “The Color Purple” with his 90-year-old mother.

“They said, no matter how much I explained, ‘Your chair cannot come in. Your chair is a fire hazard.’ The chair isn’t a fire hazard,” said Barber. “Where you place it is a fire hazard. If it was a fire hazard, I couldn’t have taken it into hospitals, and the White House, and on Broadway. It’s where you place it. It’s called accommodation.”

The theater ended up calling the police and two officers escorted Barber outside. He said the police officers said they were sorry for what happened.

AMC has already apologized to Barber, and its CEO says he will meet with him next week in Greenville.

He said one manager wanted him arrested for trespassing if he didn’t leave, while the other told him he needed a note from his doctor and then come back. “Both of them said ‘we know who you are’ and that’s when it triggered in me that this was bigger than me,” Barber said.

The minister said after being escorted outside, the managers and a security guard came out saying he could not wait there for his mother who was still inside watching the movie. Barber said, that as his driver was helping him in the vehicle, one of the AMC employees waved goodbye in a taunting manner.

“I challenged them because I know that if I cannot sit in my chair in a theater in Greenville, North Carolina, that we work this out with my doctor because I can’t sit low, I can’t sit in a wheelchair,” said Barber. “That there are thousands of other people who will be excluded from public spaces in this nation.”

AMC says it welcomes guests with disabilities, and it encourages customers who require special seating to speak with a manager in advance. “We are also reviewing our policies with our theater teams to help ensure that situations like this do not occur again,” the theater chain said.

Barber said he has already spoken on the phone with Police Chief Ted Sauls, and that they plan to have a meeting to discuss further what happened.

Today’s press conference was attended by 50-60 people, some of whom are also disabled.