According to NBC News, Mary MacCarthy and her biracial daughter had landed in Denver after a flight from Los Angeles when they were approached by two police officers and a Southwest employee. The two flew to the city after they were informed about the passing of MacCarthy’s brother.
“I’m a single mom, he’s like a father figure to my daughter. So we were both very much in shock. We hadn’t slept. It wasn’t the easiest travel,” MacCarthy said, adding that they were approached by the officers and the Southwest employee at the jet bridge.
The Denver Police Department stated they stopped the two because a flight attendant suspected MacCarthy was trafficking her daughter. The flight attendant claimed she became suspicious because the mother and daughter were the last passengers to board the plane, and they also asked to switch seats with other passengers in an effort to sit together.
The flight attendant also claimed she did not see MacCarthy and her daughter talking during the flight, adding that MacCarthy further instructed her daughter to not talk to the flight crew. But MacCarthy said that was untrue.
The White mother said she went into “panic mode” after she saw the officers because she feared they were going to inform her about the death of another family member. She, however, said she later realized they were approached for something else.
“They said, ‘We’re talking to you because you and your daughter were reported for suspicious behavior,’” MacCarthy said. “That’s when everything clicked in my brain. I’ve been a mother to a biracial child for 10 years, I’m aware of racial profiling.”
MacCarthy’s daughter was heard crying in a video of the confrontation that she filmed, NBC News reported. The mother and daughter were allowed to walk free after a Southwest representative clarified it was a misunderstanding.
“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 police. Any kid’s going to be scared in a situation like this,” MacCarthy recalled.
But despite being allowed to leave, MacCarthy said a human trafficking unit investigator with the Denver police got in touch with her to follow up on the suspected human trafficking report 10 days later.
MacCarthy said she is yet to receive an apology from Southwest Airlines. In a statement, the airline said they’ve launched an internal review into the incident.
“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 we will be reaching out to the customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us,” the company said.
Meanwhile, MacCarthy said the October 22 incident has left their family “deeply traumatized by the assumption that just because we don’t have the same skin color we’re involved in a very serious crime.”
“Before you call the police, stop and check your own possible biases … We should all be more educated than that and more sensitive now in 2021,” MacCarthy, adding that she’s also exploring her legal options.
“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,” her attorney, David Lane told NBC News. “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.”