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Civil rights leader says AMC workers ignored his disability when they kicked him out of a North Carolina movie theater

By Nick Valencia and Olivia LaBorde, CNN

(CNN) — A civil rights leader who said he was asked to leave a movie screening because of a specialized chair he tried to use has called the incident a violation of his 14th Amendment rights.

At a Friday news conference, Bishop William Barber, 60, said the situation with theater staff should have never escalated and he believed the incident was a violation of his rights under the 14th Amendment, which protects Americans’ civil rights.

Speaking to reporters in Greenville, North Carolina, where the incident occurred, Barber also offered new details, saying he was one of the individuals who called 911 because he felt unsafe over how he was being treated by theater staff.

The civil rights leader said theater staff asked him to leave the screening of “The Color Purple” because of a specialty chair he attempted to use in the disabled section of the theater, CNN previously reported.

Barber, who previously served as president of the NAACP North Carolina chapter, said he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis he has dealt with for decades. As a result, he walks using two canes and uses a specialized chair to ease discomfort while he sits, he told CNN. In video of the incident shared by Barber with CNN, the chair appears to have a backrest and no arms.

Addressing whether he believed race played a factor in the confrontation, Barber said the AMC staff were “not White,” which to him underscored “wrong is just wrong,” no matter your skin color, he said.

“It should’ve never been a police escalation situation, never been threatened to be charged with trespassing,” said Barber.

The Greenville Police Department confirmed officers arrived at the AMC Fire Tower 12 after receiving a call for trespassing. Officers said the caller stated a customer was arguing with employees and the employees wanted the customer removed.

After a conversation with Barber, he agreed to leave the theater voluntarily and no charges were filed, according to a Greenville police statement.

Barber said the day after Christmas matinee visit was planned as a special memory with his 90-year-old mother. Barber said he had to leave her behind with an assistant when asked to leave the theater or face arrest.

“One of the managers (said) ‘what’s the big deal,’” Barber recalled.

“What’s the big deal? Civil rights and disability rights are a big deal,” he said.

Barber claims the workers’ actions went against Title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “which proscribes discrimination on the basis of disability and public accommodations,” he said.

AMC representatives said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WITN they have apologized to Barber.

“AMC’s Chairman and CEO Adam Aron has already telephoned him and plans to meet with him in person in Greenville, NC, next week to discuss both this situation and the good works Bishop Barber is engaged in throughout the years,” the statement reads. “We are also reviewing our policies with our theater teams to help ensure that situations like this do not occur again.”

Barber said he will meet with AMC representatives on Tuesday.

In 1993, Barber joined Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, and over the next three decades he became renowned for his work addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and racism. He served as president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter from 2005 until 2017.

CNN’s Zoe Sottile and Sharif Paget contributed to this report.

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