AMC Theaters Apologizes to Civil Rights Leader Removed From Movie Theater

AMC Theaters has apologized to the Rev. William J. Barber II, a civil rights leader, after he was escorted from a Greenville, N.C., theater after employees refused to allow him to use a chair he needs to manage a painful medical condition, he said.

Mr. Barber, 60, was attending a Tuesday afternoon screening of “The Color Purple” with his mother, Eleanor Barber, 90. He said he tried to use the chair, which an assistant carried for him, by placing it in an area reserved for handicapped seating, saying he had done so before in theaters, at Broadway plays and even on a visit to the White House.

He said a theater employee told him that he would not be able to use the chair, which looks like a small stool, because it did not comply with guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Employees then summoned the Greenville police and told the officers that they wanted Mr. Barber to leave or be charged with trespassing, according to Mr. Barber, who shared a video of the encounter with The New York Times.

Mr. Barber said he agreed to leave the theater and that no charges had been filed. The video shows a police officer escorting him out of the theater, thanking him for his cooperation and apologizing “for the way this turned out.”

His mother stayed and watched the movie with an assistant, he said.

“I just wanted to go see the movie with my mother,” Mr. Barber said.

In a statement issued to a local news station, the AMC theater chain said it “sincerely apologize to Bishop Barber for how he was treated, and for the frustration and inconvenience brought to him, his family, and his guests.”

Both the statement and Mr. Barber said that AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron, had spoken to Mr. Barber by phone, and that the two planned to meet in Greenville next week.

Neither AMC Theaters nor the Greenville Police Department responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Barber has a condition called ankylosing spondylitis, and walks slowly with the aid of a cane. He said the disease attacks his joints “like a guided missile” and has forced him to live with chronic pain for almost 40 years. “I describe it like that because it’s a war to live with it,” he said.

He added that people with disabilities often fight invisible battles that can be difficult for people not living with disabilities to understand.

“Disabled people have a right to show up,” Mr. Barber said. “Period.”

Mr. Barber said that he was grateful that Mr. Aron had reached out immediately and apologized, and was looking forward to their meeting.

“I’ve had very positive conversations with him and with the police chief,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe the police even wanted to be involved.

Maria Town, president and chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities, a disability-rights advocacy organization, said she found the response from theater staff “just baffling.”

“People with disabilities encounter so much discrimination on a daily basis,” Ms. Town said. “They encounter so many kinds of physical barriers that by law shouldn’t exist.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990, is a civil rights law that bans discrimination in several areas and widely requires accommodation in public places. “And that’s what movie theaters are,” Ms. Town said.

Mr. Barber rose to national prominence in the 2010s after leading protests against a North Carolina voter ID law that a federal appeals court later struck down, called it an unconstitutional effort to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Mr. Barber, a former head of North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., is a fixture at rallies, marches and civil disobedience actions. He said that he has been allowed to use his chair in numerous theaters and other places, including in jail after being arrested at demonstrations.

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