Wednesday 22 May 2019

'This has happened so often ... they've learned to live with it'

Stock photo: REUTERS
Stock photo: REUTERS

Amy Wang

David Lawrence had just settled into seat 22F when he heard a commotion on the other side of the plane.

A few rows behind him, a ruddy-faced man with grey hair and glasses was shouting at a black woman seated along the aisle.

"I heard this man shouting at this woman, saying, 'You're in my way, get out! I don't want you here next to me!'," Mr Lawrence said. "I couldn't believe what I heard."

Mr Lawrence grabbed his phone and started to record the encounter, which took place before the Ryanair flight from Barcelona to London Stansted Airport. By then, the woman's daughter had come up and confronted the man.

"She said, 'Who are you talking to? Don't shout at her, that's my mother, she's disabled'," Mr Lawrence recalled, noting that the elderly woman had boarded the plane in a wheelchair. "He then was saying, 'I don't care'."

In the video, the man can be heard shouting back at the younger black woman, all while other passengers continue shuffling down the aisle.

A male flight attendant with his back to Mr Lawrence's camera attempts to calm the situation, to little effect.

"I tell you, I hope somebody sits there," the man tells the elderly woman, gesturing toward the empty middle seat between them.

"Because I don't want to sit next to your..." The rest of the sentence is unclear, though he appears to call her "sickly", "fat" and "ugly".

The flight attendant then asks the woman whether she would like to sit elsewhere.

"Put her to another seat!" the man shouts, before turning to the woman. "I tell you this. If you don't go to another seat, I'll put you to another seat!"

The elderly woman says something back, prompting the man to retort angrily: "Don't talk to me in a f***ing foreign language, you stupid ugly cow!" and then "Ugly black bastard!"

The shouting had a mixed effect on surrounding passengers. One man, wearing a black T-shirt and sitting in the row directly behind, physically tried to intervene, sticking his hand between the seats in front of him and telling the man to keep his voice down.

"Stop," the man in the black shirt pleads.

"There's no need for that at all. Just stop. It's really easy to close your mouth."

Mr Lawrence, while recording the video, can be heard saying, "Throw him off the flight. Get rid of him!"

Eventually, the elderly woman asks to sit next to her daughter and begins to move out of the row, visibly fed-up.

To his surprise, Mr Lawrence said, the flight took off shortly afterward, with no apparent repercussions for the male passenger.

"I thought the flight attendant was going to call someone and escort the man off the flight," Lawrence said. "They moved the woman instead of moving him. That was shocking to me."

He decided to upload his video to Facebook the following day out of frustration.

"It was just so disturbing," he said. "Because there was no response from the other passengers on the flight at the time, I thought, OK, well, somebody needs to know what happened here. That's why I kept the video running and captured as much as I could."

Over the weekend, the video had nearly three million views and has been shared tens of thousands of times. Mr Lawrence later uploaded the video to YouTube, where it has more than 100,000 views.

Scores of commenters expressed outrage over how the matter was handled and demanded to know why Ryanair's flight crew didn't remove the male passenger before the plane took off.

Representatives for Ryanair did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, the Irish airline said in a Twitter post that it had reported the incident to Essex Police.

"We operate strict guidelines for disruptive passengers and we will not tolerate unruly behaviour like this," Ryanair told the BBC.

"We will be taking this matter further and disruptive or abusive behaviour like this will result in passengers being banned from travel."

The elderly woman was later named as Delsie Gayle. Her daughter told HuffPost UK that her mother is a 77-year-old retiree who immigrated to Britain from Jamaica in the 1960s.

They were returning from a holiday to mark the anniversary of the death of Ms Gayle's husband, she said.

Mr Lawrence (56) said he spoke to Ms Gayle and her daughter after the flight and said they were both disappointed and disgusted.

His parents also were part of the 'Windrush generation', immigrants who moved from the Caribbean to Britain from 1948 to 1971, so Mr Lawrence said he could understand why the Ms Gayle agreed to switch seats rather than escalate the situation.

"The racism they suffered on a daily basis is historic. Our parents have learned over the years - because they have never received any kind of justice - they've just learned to live with it," Lawrence said.

"They kind of have this attitude, like, 'Well, what can we do?' sort of thing. The lady was like, 'this has happened so many times. I just want to go home'." (© Washington Post Service)

Irish Independent

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