United passenger accused of racism by Jackson Lee is a human rights activist
We really haven’t invested any virtual ink in the story of Jean-Marie Simon, the United Airlines passenger who was bumped from her first class seat in favor of Texas Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. After all, terrible things happening to people flying on United are pretty much dog bites man stories these days. But the response of both Jackson Lee and the airline to the kerfuffle is turning it into a bit more of a newsworthy item. The explanation for the alleged “mistake” and lack of a formal apology have resulted in United’s customer service department taking another self-inflicted wound. But Jackson Lee’s claim that the woman was probably a racist really tossed a jerrycan of gasoline on the fire.
As has already been noted by numerous conservative critics, Sheila Jackson Lee rarely sees anything in this world which can’t be attributed to racism in some fashion, but is that really the case here? Was this some privileged white woman who messed up her own reservation and then became enraged when a black person was given her seat? The Washington Times dug a bit deeper and found that Simon’s background isn’t exactly one which lends itself to KKK membership. In fact, she’s worked for years as a human rights activist in Guatemala.
The woman Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee accused of racism is a celebrated photojournalist who helped document human-rights abuses in war-torn Guatemala during the 1980s.
Jean-Marie Simon, whose first-class seat on a United Airlines flight was given to Ms. Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, lived and worked in Guatemala during the turbulent decade that saw the military seize control of the government in a coup. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans were killed or “disappeared” during the conflict.
Now a teacher, Ms. Simon, 63, is the author of “Guatemala: Eternal Spring Eternal Tyranny.” A 2012 blog post on Amnesty International said Simon donated 1,000 copies of her book to schools and universities in Guatemala “to keep the truth of what happened alive.”
This doesn’t absolutely prove anything since none of us can read the secrets buried in the hearts of men (or women), but Simon seems an unlikely candidate for a racism charge at best. Also, the airline’s explanation of how this all took place is dubious to begin with. Simon was on the final leg of a no doubt exhausting trip from Guatemala back to DC with a flight change in Texas. What possible motivation would she have to suddenly cancel her trip? In fact, other than checking the departure gate and seeing if the flight was on schedule, why would she be messing around with her reservation at all? She’s asked the airline to provide proof that she had inadvertently cancelled her flight, but none has been produced yet. Seems to me that it would have been a relatively easy thing for United to do and they could have put all of this to rest.
Then there’s this tidbit which wasn’t given as much play originally, involving another unnamed member of the Texas congressional delegation. (Emphasis added)
“I was the last passenger on the plane,” Ms. Simon wrote on Facebook. “A Texas congressman, a nice guy, sat down next to me. He said was glad I had made it on the flight. I showed him my boarding pass with my seat, 1A, printed on it. He said, ‘You know what happened, right? Do you know who’s in your seat?’ I said no. He told me that it was Jackson Lee, a fellow U.S. congresswoman who regularly does this, that this was the third time he personally had watched her bump a passenger.”
If this is true, surely we could get confirmation of it. There are only 33 male members of the Texas congressional delegation (Simon specifically said it was a male) and it probably wasn’t a Democrat ratting out their colleague. That narrows it down to 24 men. If one of them actually had this conversation with Simon and is willing to own up to it we’d have some fairly solid confirmation of her story.
Meanwhile, United apparently had some low-level staffer say they were sorry during a phone call and gave Simon a $500 voucher, but as of yesterday, she says that a formal apology hasn’t been forthcoming.
This entire story really should have been much ado about nothing, but the repeated denials and accusations from Shiela Jackson Lee, combined with the mishandling of a PR disaster by United have turned it into a prolonged problem. Simon isn’t backing down and United really needs to do something to calm the waters.