Home Christian News William Barber II Escorted Out of Movie Theater, Denied Disability Accommodations

William Barber II Escorted Out of Movie Theater, Denied Disability Accommodations

William Barber II
The Rev. William Barber II at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., March 26, 2022. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)

(RNS) — The Rev. William Barber is no stranger to being escorted by police away from scenes of protest. The Disciples of Christ pastor and civil rights organizer has been arrested multiple times at nonviolent demonstrations on behalf of voting rights, a federal minimum wage and other social justice issues.

But even Barber was surprised to find himself being escorted by police out of a showing of “The Color Purple” at Greenville, North Carolina’s AMC Fire Tower 12 movie theater on Tuesday (Dec. 26) after employees barred the minister from using his own chair to watch the movie with his 90-year-old mother.

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“It’s one of those things where I don’t know how much longer I’ll have to do things like that with her,” said Barber, who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign and recently founded the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.

Barber, 60, has been public about his battle with a painful chronic form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis. He walks haltingly using two canes and told Religion News Service that he is unable to sit in a wheelchair or in low chairs. He travels with his own chair and almost always uses it instead of the seating provided in public spaces.

“My chair has been everywhere,” Barber told Religion News Service. “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.”

Barber brought his chair as usual to the AMC theater, he said, taking care to place it in the handicap cutout so it wouldn’t obstruct any pathways or sightlines.

According to Barber, management claimed the chair was a fire code violation and said the theater only accommodates wheelchairs. Barber insisted that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the theater to make accommodations, he said, and told the employees he had never encountered an issue with the chair elsewhere. When he asked to see the theater’s accommodation rules, which weren’t posted, Barber said, management allegedly told him they didn’t have the rules in writing.

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As the previews played on the screen, two police officers approached Barber and said the theater wanted him removed.

“I’m gonna take you out,” one police offer told Barber in a video Barber provided to RNS.