10:50 AM PDT, November 5, 2021
A Los Angeles mother says she and her biracial daughter were stopped as they left a flight in Denver after a Southwest employee suspected her of human trafficking.
Mary MacCarthy and her 10-year-old daughter, Moira, flew to Colorado after the sudden death of the woman’s older brother, the mother said. As they were exiting the plane, she said, they were flagged down by a Southwest Airlines agent and two Denver police officers.
The officers questioned the mother and her daughter because a a flight attendant had deemed their behavior as suspicious and flagged the woman as a possible human trafficker, according to a Denver police report and the mother, according to The Denver Post.
“The whole thing is based on what I believe to be a racist assumption about a mixed-race family,” MacCarthy said.
“The officer said, ‘We’re talking to you because you were reported to the pilot for suspicious behavior,’” MacCarthy said. “And it immediately occurred to me what was going on. This is the type of situation that mixed-race families and families of color face all the time while traveling,” she told the newspaper.
The mother said she explained they were traveling at the last minute for funeral. In cellphone video taken by MacCarthy, her daughter can be heard sobbing. The two were then allowed to leave, MacCarthy said.
The flight attendant who reported MacCarthy said she was suspicious because the two were the last to board the plane and because MacCarthy asked other passengers to exchange seats so the girl could sit next to her, the police report said, according to the media site. The attendant also reported that the pair did not speak to each other, the report said.
“Somebody saw us,” MacCarthy told KTVU-TV. “They saw a white woman with a child of a different race and based on that decided to report us for a very serious alleged crime.”
MacCarthy said she and her daughter were in the last boarding group, and that Moira was listening to an audio book while the mother slept. She said a fellow passenger was not bothered by exchanging seats so the girl could sit next to her mother.
MacCarthy has hired civil rights attorney Daniel Lane to represent her. “It’s the corporate training that is lacking here,” Lane told the station. “Southwest needs to train their officers when they can and can’t call the police.”
In a statement, Southwest said, “We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter. We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and will be reaching out to the customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies.”
The airline also said its employees are trained in how to recognize possible human trafficking.
MacCarthy said her daughter was traumatized by the experience.