A White mom and her biracial daughter were stopped by police at a Denver airport because a Southwest flight attendant suspected the mother of "trafficking" her daughter.
Mary MacCarthy, age 42, was traveling with her daughter, Moira, age 10, on a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Denver with a connecting flight in San Jose on October 22.
The two were the last to board this last minute flight because of the sudden death of MacCarthy's older brother.
MacCarthy told Denver7 this was just like any other flight they had taken.
"I chatted with the lovely people who had moved seats for us [to sit together]."
"My daughter listened to her audio book."
"I tired to sleep because I hadn't slept the night before."
"There was nothing unusual in what happened on the flight."
Upon exiting the plane, they were immediately met by two armed Denver police officers and a Southwest representative on the jet bridge.
MacCarthy's first thought was the police were there to tell her of another family member's passing, but she soon learned that was not the case.
"They said, 'We're talking to you because you and your daughter were reported for suspicious behavior'."
"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 was able to record some of the conversation.
The airline representative said:
"The flight attendants were just concerned about the behavior when you boarded the aircraft."
However, the police report said:
"Report of possible Human Trafficking reported by Southwest Flight Attendant."
All the while, Moira is sobbing as she stands next to her mother.
MacCarthy told NBC News:
"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."
The case was closed as the report said the flight attendant's suspicions were "unfounded" and there was no need for further action.
MacCarthy later received a call from the Human Trafficking Unit of the Denver Police Department.
The report also said MacCarthy refused to give information but she took a three minute video to prove she answered all of their questions.
MacCarthy said Moira hasn't been able to talk about what happened.
"[The family is] 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."
According to MacCarthy's lawyer, Southwest is looking into the incident.
Lawyer David Lane agreed the incident was racially motivated.
"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."
"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."
"I want Southwest and all airlines to know, if you're training your crews in how to keep an eye out for human trafficking it's imperative that you train them equally and how to not racially profile."
The airline did release a statement, but they did not share what exactly set off the attendant to find MacCarthy and her daughter suspicious.
The airline said their employees will undergo "robust training on human trafficking."
MacCarthy told the Independent the police didn't move on from the case as the report claimed:
"The Denver Police didn't drop it, they called me 10 days later to follow up."
"Things like this happen to mixed-race families all the time, this is a thing that we are afraid of ... I feel an obligation towards my daughter and other mixed-race families to speak out."
MacCarthy is looking for Southwest Airlines to be held accountable for racial profiling.