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Ifill tweeted about the incident right after an Amtrak employee asked her to move seats–without giving a justification. Ifill wrote that she refused to leave her spot.
“I’m being asked to leave my seat on train 80 which I just boarded in D.C.,” she tweeted at Amtrak. “There are no assigned seats on this train. The conductor has asked me to leave my seat because she has ‘other people coming who she wants to give this seat.’ Can you please explain?”
I’ve made clear I’m not moving. https://t.co/fCtXIMqXMd— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 17, 2020
Ifill continued to live tweet the incident, explaining that she spoke to the lead conductor who could not offer a reason as to why the assistant asked her to move. She added that she was the only person asked to change seats.
“I laid out the facts and made clear that I know that it is absolutely contrary to policy and unacceptable to pick one passenger from an unassigned seat and demand she move,” Ifill wrote.
I laid out the facts and made clear that I know thst it is absolutely contrary to policy and unacceptable to pick one passenger from an unassigned seat and demand she move. Lead conductor (man) just has his mouth open. The woman agent/conductor now drops her head.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 17, 2020
Twitter users were enraged by the situation and noted that it was especially upsetting because it took place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
“Shades of similarities from civil rights history are quite fitting here that it doesn’t even need mentioning to know what this reminds you of,” Twitter user Amro Ali wrote, making a reference to when Rosa Parks famously refused to move from her bus seat in 1955.
Shades of similarities from civil rights history are quite fitting here that it doesn’t even need mentioning to know what this reminds you of. https://t.co/XBo5F547lJ— Amro Ali (@_amroali) January 17, 2020
@Amtrak has a self-inflicted derailment by demanding the President of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund give up her seat (for no good reason) at the start of MLK holiday. It shouldn't happen to anyone at any time, as I'm certain she will take great pains to inform and correct you.— PNW_Louise🌊 (@livingintheGig) January 18, 2020
I hope you kept your seat! If there are no reserved seats,the conductor needs to explain herself: "I have 6 sight-impaired students I need to sit together," etc. Short of something like that, nah. Did she ask others to move, or just you? https://t.co/fhnfvUBtAX— karenbates (@karenbates) January 17, 2020
The situation escalated from there. Nearly a whole day went by without a response from Amtrak. Ifill called out the company again on Twitter the next morning.
“You are doing this all wrong, I can assure you,” she wrote about Amtrak not immediately and publicly issuing an apology.
When the company finally responded, it was to tell Ifill that employees had reached out to her “numerous times” and “have been unable to connect.” However, the official Amtrak account never responded to her original tweet, nor did it reach out to her via email, which she uses every week to get her train ticket sent to her.
Ms. Ifill, we have tried to reach you directly numerous times via the info we have on file but have been unable to connect. We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication & inconvenience and are investigating. Please DM us the best way to reach you so we can discuss this matter.— Amtrak (@Amtrak) January 18, 2020
W/regard to the @AmtrakOIG’s claim that they tried to reach me, I explained to the officials the embarrassing absurdity. Obviously they could have replied to my tweets. They also emailed the ticket for train 80 to me yesterday. I receive emailed tix from Amtrak every week.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 18, 2020
After more social media uproar over how Amtrak was handling the situation, the company issued a public apology.
“We apologize again for what happened on the train last night and understand that both this and our slow response are upsetting,” Amtrak tweeted. “As of today, we’re changing our policy about how we respond on social media to ensure we’re faster and more transparent.”
Update. pic.twitter.com/Za4cPJzVgF— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 18, 2020
Ifill then released a statement of her own. In it, she thanked Twitter users for their support.
“I am colossally disappointed in Amtrak for both this incident and the way it was handled,” Ifill wrote. “Keep fighting and honor MLK this weekend. It’s about our individual dignity, the strength of our communities, and the integrity of our democracy.”
I am colossally disappointed in @Amtrak for both this incident & the way it was handled. But this is emblematic of how companies so often fail in this space.I will submit a more formal complaint & closely monitor the review of this incident & of the conduct of the employees.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 18, 2020
I will keep you all posted in this space on @Amtrak discussions. And thank you all for the attention and support. Keep fighting and honor #MLK this weekend. It’s about our individual dignity, the strength of our communities, and the integrity of our democracy.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 18, 2020
Sierra Juarez is a freelance journalist and fact-checker based in Mexico. She most enjoys writing about human rights and politics and working in audience engagement. Her work has appeared in the Texas Tribune, the Austin American–Statesman, and the San Antonio Current.