Bishop Barber addresses AMC theater seating for people with disabilities: 'Stand your ground'

Tom George Image
Wednesday, January 3, 2024
Bishop Barber addresses AMC theater seating dispute
Barber left the AMC Fire Tower 12 theater when police were called during a dispute with employees over seating in the area designated for people with disabilities.

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The day after "The Color Purple" opened in theaters, internationally known activist Bishop William Barber II went to see the movie with his 90-year-old mother in Greenville, North Carolina.

It didn't go as planned.

The trip ended with the police being called and Barber leaving the AMC Fire Tower 12 theater after a dispute with employees over seating in the area designated for people with disabilities.

Barber uses two canes and has difficulty walking and sitting in certain chairs because of a form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis. He usually takes his own chair, which resembles a bar stool with a back, to public events.

That's what he did on Tuesday. After setting up his chair, Bishop Barber said he was told that was not allowed.

"This is about what systemic changes and policy training need to happen to make sure this happens to no one," Barber said during a news conference to address the incident"


The dispute happened Tuesday when Bishop Barber went to see 'The Color Purple' at the AMC Fire Tower 12 theater in Greenville.

An attorney tells ABC11 this is something that happens too often. Maya Davis urges managers to understand that under the Americans With Disabilities Act, they can't question someone's disability and have to provide reasonable accommodation.

"Be human be kind and know that you don't have to ask someone about their disability it may be mental it may be physical and it doesn't matter," she says.

Her advice to those with disabilities is, "Know your rights and stand your ground."

"I would encourage people to say I belong here you all are required to accommodate me and that's what the law says," Davis says.

Barber says he has retained an attorney but hasn't made any decisions on litigation. He is set to speak with the president of AMC theaters in Greenville and wants to discuss possible changes in training and awareness to avoid this kind of thing from happening again.

That meeting with AMC happened Jan. 2. Barber released the following statement after the meeting:

"While I am encouraged by our meeting with Mr. Aron today, we have more to consider. This isn't about William Barber or one night in December. It's about the law. It's about treating every man, woman and child who has disabilities with compassion and dignity. And being assured that every place will "Accommodate Me Carefully." It's about recognizing that whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me."The managers that night at AMC didn't see me as a man in pain. They saw me as a disturbance and a threat. It doesn't matter what color they were They didn't treat me with dignity. And I have to be concerned if they would treat me this way what would happen with others? They called the police and, while I thank Mr. Aron for his time and consideration, believe he is sincere and we even share some similar world view, this was a beginning not an ending. An apology is one thing, but what kind of real action will be taken is another. We did commit to at least one other meeting to move towards resolutions for public accommodations."

Greenville police confirm they were called to the theatre due to "a customer arguing with employees, and they wished to have them removed from the business."

A police department supervisor went to the theater and spoke with all involved in the dispute including Barber. Police said Barber agreed to leave the theater voluntarily.

In a statement, AMC apologized to Barber for the handling of the incident.

"We sincerely apologize to Bishop Barber for how he was treated, and for the frustration and inconvenience brought to him, his family, and his guests. 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.

"AMC welcomes guests with disabilities. We have a number of accommodations in place at our theatres at all times, and our theatre teams work hard to accommodate guests who have needs that fall outside of 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. We are also reviewing our policies with our theater teams to help ensure that situations like this do not occur again."

"The Americans with Disabilities Act governs places like movie theatres, restaurants, and requires that if there's a policy in place, a movie theatre for example, has to make a reasonable modification for people with disabilities," said Katherine Macfarlane, who is the Director of Disability Law and Policy Program at Syracuse University College of Law. "That requires an individualized assessment on a case-by-case basis of how any kind of policies or perhaps even the physical structure of a movie theatre has to be adapted to allow a person like this gentleman the ability to sit and enjoy a movie in peace without experiencing pain. If there's a provided form of seating that hurts him, then that's not an acceptable modification to offer."

AMC Fire Tower 12 theater in Greenville, NC, December 29, 2023
A seating dispute led to police escorting activist William Barber II from a movie theater.