Mary MacCarthy, a Los Angeles woman, traveling with her biracial 10-year-old daughter, was racially profiled as a human trafficker in a traumatic incident in Denver Oct. 22. The mother and daughter were stopped at the airport in Denver, Colorado by a Southwest manager and two police officers, because a flight attendant suspected Mary MacCarthy was engaged in human trafficking.
The flight attendant had contacted authorities. Mary MacCarthy and Moira were stopped as they deboarded in Denver on Oct. 22.
MacCarthy, a white woman, in recounting what she told the officers at the time, said: “Throughout the encounter, my daughter was sobbing, and I told them, ‘Look, we’re traveling for a death and she’s a Black girl who’s 10 but looks much older than she is. She unfortunately already has had charged encounters with the police. Any kid’s going to be scared in a situation like this.”
The mother and daughter were on the Southwest flight because Mary MacCarthy’s brother had just died. Moira was close to her uncle. The pair booked last-minute tickets to attend his funeral. They had just flown from Los Angeles to Denver with a connection in San Jose.
The police report indicates that the officers came to understand the situation and apologized. But that was not the last that Mary MacCarthy heard of it. Ten days later she received a call from Denver Police investigators on a follow-up to the same suspicion. Ultimately, the Denver Police Department classified the suspicion as unfounded.
The flight attendant who flagged the mother-daughter pair has given three key reasons to believe that Moira MacCarthy might be a trafficking victim. First, the mother and daughter boarded the plane late. Second, they didn’t speak during the flight, and it seemed Mary MacCarthy forbade her daughter from speaking. Third, Mary MacCarthy asked other passengers to move so that she and her daughter could sit together.
Southwest Airlines says it offers its employees “robust training on human trafficking.”
Mary MacCarthy contends that the reasons given are lies or excuses. She says that she and her daughter boarded with her group at San Jose, and that they did talk to and interact normally with the crew and other passengers. She did, perhaps unsurprisingly, talk to the other passengers in order to secure a seat next to her 10-year-old daughter.
Mary MacCarthy believes that a “racist assumption” was at work, that a light-skinned woman and darker-skinned child traveling together are likely to be a trafficker and victim. She has hired a lawyer, Dave Lane, a Denver-based lawyer, to pursue a possible complaint.
Lane told NBC News: “Had this little girl been white there would have been not a raised eyebrow. So race was the only factor that triggered this call to the police. It’s Southwest Airlines that I have an issue with. And I think this is a civil rights violation because they are causing a paying customer of theirs to have to undergo the trauma of being stopped by the police in question like this, for no reason other than the race of Mary and that of her daughter.”
MacCarthy also said that her daughter “clams up” whenever the subject arises.
Southwest has not apologized but, according to a statement to a news organization, it plans to. “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 for her experience traveling with us,” Southwest said.
In another recent controversy over alleged racial profiling, activists this summer brought a lawsuit against the Beverly Hills Police Department alleging the wrongful arrest of 106 people of color.