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Undoubtedly A Case Of Racial Profiling,' Flight Attendant Suspected Biracial Family Of Human Trafficking

Mary MacCarthy and her daughter Moira were stopped by police as they exited a Southwest flight, after a flight attendant flagged MacCarthy as a potential human trafficker. 

By Gina Tron
Facts about Racial Profiling and Discrimination

A white mother traveling to a funeral with her Black daughter was stopped by two police officers after a Southwest flight attendant flagged her as a potential human trafficker. 

The incident happened on Oct. 22 as Mary MacCarthy and her daughter Moira flew from Los Angeles to Denver, NBC News reports. MacCarthy’s brother had died the night before. 

The mother and daughter were stopped after landing in Denver and confronted by the officers and a Southwest employee on the bridge of the plane. 

The flight attendant claimed that she flagged MacCarthy as suspicious because they asked other passengers to change seats so they could sit together yet she did not see them speak to one another. The employee also claimed that MacCarthy told her daughter not to talk to the flight crew, according to NBC.

“They said, ‘We’re talking to you because you and your daughter were reported for suspicious behavior,’” McCarthy told the outlet. “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.”

She also denies that she ever instructed her daughter not to talk to flight crew. She also explained that she made it clear to flight crew why she asked to switch seats on the last minute flight.

 "I said to the flight attendants, 'We're traveling for a funeral, my daughter's just 10,” she told People. She said the flight crew told her to "just find two open seats” which she did on her own.

Ten days after the incident, MacCarthy told People that she received a call from the police saying that they were "following up on suspicions that I'm a human trafficker."

MacCarthy told People that she wants both Southwest Airlines and the Denver police to “be held accountable for what is undoubtedly a case of racial profiling involving a 10-year-old Black girl who was already suffering the worst day in her life — a death in her family.” 

She added, "an incident like this can scar a child for life.”

In a statement to USA Today, Southwest stated that its employees are trained to spot instances of human trafficking. They also said that they seek to create “a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” they stated. “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.”

Airline employees are indeed trained to look for warning signs of human trafficking. Passengers avoiding eye contact with staff is one such warning sign, according to 2018 guidance by the International Civil Aviation Organization. But, airline workers are also trained not to profile people, Business Insider reported in 2020.

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