Aug 9, 2023

White Mom Sues After Airline Thought She Was Trafficking Biracial Daughter Transcript

White Mom Sues After Airline Thought She Was Trafficking Biracial Daughter Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsMary MacCarthyWhite Mom Sues After Airline Thought She Was Trafficking Biracial Daughter Transcript

Mary MacCarthy is suing Southwest Airlines over a 2021 incident where she says employees and police stopped her and accused her of trafficking her biracial daughter. Read the transcript here.

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Poppy Harlow (00:01):

So a mother is suing Southwest Airlines for racial discrimination. She says she was accused of human trafficking when flying with her biracial child. Her name is Mary MacCarthy, who is white. She traveled from California to Denver with her daughter who is biracial to attend her brother’s funeral in October of 2021. This is according to a new lawsuit filed this week, and here’s what the [inaudible 00:00:21] just quote, “while they were in the air, a Southwest employee called the Denver Police Department to report Ms. MacCarthy for suspected child trafficking for no reason other than the different color of her daughter’s skin from her own.”

Now, according to this lawsuit, as MacCarthy and her daughter were walking on the jet bridge, and this is a video of that, by the way, they were confronted by Denver police officers. After significant questioning, MacCarthy was eventually allowed to leave by the officers, quote, and this is in the lawsuit, “but not before this display of blatant racism by Southwest Airlines caused Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter extreme and emotional distress.” I appreciate her being with us. I just want to show you first though, part of this recorded interaction that she had when they got off the plane with a Southwest official and Denver police officers. Here it is.

Speaker 2 (01:12):

The flight attendants were just concerned about the behavior when you boarded the aircraft. That’s all we’re following up on. We’re not suspecting anything. That’s all we need to know. I mean, you guys are good. I do apologize.

Mary MacCarthy (01:24):

It’s not, because I have a daughter who has already unfortunately been traumatized by police in her life. And I’m sure you wonderful.

Speaker 4 (01:31):

Well, I’m not trying to do that by any still to the means, so.

Mary MacCarthy (01:33):

So this isn’t okay.

Poppy Harlow (01:36):

At the time, Southwest said they were quote, “disheartened by her account of the events,” adding in part, “we are conducting a review of the situation internally… Our employees undergo robust training on human trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment.” We did, of course, reach out to a Southwest spokesperson again, given this litigation, they had no comment. Mary MacCarthy, the mother joins us now. Good morning. I appreciate you being with us. Why did you file suit? What do you want?

Mary MacCarthy (02:08):

When I initially spoke out about this back in October of 2021, the reason I went public with it, which takes a certain risk, in the meantime, my daughter and I, our names have been dragged through the mud, we’ve received a lot of backlash, but it was really because this is an opportunity for me to speak out against racial profiling. If one less family, one less child can go through an experience with the airlines or elsewhere in life and not be racially profiled, to me it’s worth speaking out. It’s all about the crux of the matter, which is in 2021, now 2023, no corporation should be able to get away with this kind of behavior.

Poppy Harlow (02:45):

I read through the lawsuit that you’re seeking unspecified damages and you want an apology from the airline and you want mandatory training to change. What’s the ultimate goal here? What do you hope at the end of this changes for other people?

Mary MacCarthy (03:00):

I hear on a regular basis from other parents who go through this. Families like mine that are mixed race for a number of reasons, whether it’s their biological children happen to look a little bit different from them in terms of skin color. Lots of families who have adopted children. And this is happening quite regularly, more often I’d say to fathers than to mothers where they are sometimes pulled off of flights or very aggressively questioned, sometimes even separated and detained, the parents and the children, simply due to largely a difference in skin color.

This is racial profiling. It has no place in the United States of today, and that’s what I’m speaking out against. The airlines are teaching their staff to look out for human trafficking, child trafficking on airlines, but clearly that training is failing if they’re not as part of that training also warning them to look out for their own behavior and racial profiling. And by the way, child trafficking and human trafficking is not an epidemic on commercial flights. That’s a moral panic. Trafficking isn’t something that we have to worry about on commercial flights too much. So how about focus on reducing racism more than on some of these kind of boogeyman type of moral panics that they’ve got all worried about?

Poppy Harlow (04:18):

I did read a statistic that you’re correct that most of the human trafficking does not happen on airlines, but it was pointed to in one study around 38%. I do want to read to you what the International Air Transportation Association said in terms of their guidelines for combating human trafficking. And they say, “Cabin crew are in a unique position to notify law enforcement because they, quote, ‘travel with passengers sometimes for many hours. They can spot the smallest signals and behaviors.'” But they also go on to say that you need to defer to another person, not to speak for them. My question to you is do you think it could have been an honest mistake by one person?

Mary MacCarthy (05:00):

Honest mistakes happen. I’m deeply sympathetic to anyone doing their job. I’m not only a mother to a biracial child, but I’ve always been a single mother. So I’m very careful when I travel that I always take documentation. I carry her birth certificate. I’m prepared to show my ID and her birth certificate at TSA, they have the right to ask me any questions. They can ask me questions about race because frankly that’s a physical difference. It’s a reality. But there’s a big difference between TSA doing the screening that they’re doing as part of their job and a flight attendant not even taking the time to ask me a question, find out if we have the same last name, the basic due diligence before they call the police.

You can see in the body cam footage that they lie about numerous things. The Southwest attendants is heard on the body cam footage repeatedly lying about why I was traveling, saying that I lied about the fact that I was traveling to a funeral. That’s appalling behavior towards one of your customers on any level, and I feel like the public should know that this is how they’re treating and talking about their customers, and I want to build awareness around all of that.

Poppy Harlow (06:11):

And as I understand, you said you travel with the birth certificate of your daughter and you were not even asked to present that as proof. Just before we go, your daughter’s 12 now, we hear her tears in that video. How is she today?

Mary MacCarthy (06:27):

Fortunately, she’s doing great. She’s a blossoming 12-year-old going into seventh grade. But when it comes to this incident, just after it, and up until now about a year and a half later, she clams up and doesn’t want to talk about it. Of course, I did what any responsible mom would do, I made sure that she got a therapist to talk to about this because it was also the day that we were traveling to my brother’s funeral so she could deal with the grief of that. And fortunately, she is doing great. She knows that I’m speaking to the media. She supports that, but of course, she herself is doing the things that a 12-year-old girl is supposed to do and not have to worry about stuff like this on a daily basis. And hopefully moving forward less and less for kids like her. Children of color have enough challenges in their day-to-day life. Let’s not add to it.

Poppy Harlow (07:09):

Yeah. Well, we appreciate you sharing your story. I’m sorry also for the loss of your brother. And we welcome anyone from Southwest Airlines, of course, on the program to join us as well. Mary, thank you.

Mary MacCarthy (07:21):

Thanks, Poppy.

Poppy Harlow (07:22):


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