The disgruntled United Airlines passenger accused of racism by Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee photographed Guatemalan war crimes, teaches Spanish and is a longtime registered Democrat, according to voting records reviewed by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Jean Marie Simon, 63, accused United Airlines on Twitter of bumping her from a Dec. 18 flight from Houston to Washington, D.C. in order to accommodate Lee. The airline claims that Simon voluntarily cancelled her flight in the wake of inclement weather reports — a charge Simon vehemently denied. Lee responded with an angry Twitter tirade of her own Tuesday accusing Simon — listed as a “hard Democrat,” in a voter model examined by TheDCNF — of targeting her because of her race. (RELATED: Angry Passenger Says United Gave Her First-Class Seat To Dem Congresswoman)
“Since this was not any fault of mine, the way the individual continued to act appeared to be, upon reflection, because I was an African American, seemingly an easy target along with the African American flight attendant who was very, very nice,” the congresswoman wrote in one of many tweets describing the incident.
Simon was on the last leg of her return trip from Guatemala when the incident occurred. It was not her first trip to the Central American country; in fact, she spent much of the 1980s documenting war crimes there in the wake of a military coup that saw thousands murdered, raped and starved. She first travelled to Guatemala at the behest of Amnesty International, who asked her to take photographs for an impending report on the government’s role in extrajudicial killings and abductions.
Simon eventually published a book of photographs depicting the years of violence she witnessed entitled “Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.”
Simon describes her harrowing work in a 2012 New York Times article written on the occasion of former Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt’s war crimes trial.
“You stand on the corner with a carnation, and a car comes by,” she told TheNYT of her work. “Somebody asks, ‘Do you have a copy of Time?’ You say, ‘No, I have a copy of Newsweek.’ Then you get in a car with black windows; then you get in a another car, blindfolded, and spend 45 minutes on a bumpy road. They took me to this room, they take off my blindfold. There are seven guys with hoods and big machine guns and a huge Claymore mine on the table.”
After returning from Guatemala in 1988, Simon practiced law for a decade before becoming a high school Spanish teacher. She has also written reports for a number of human rights organizations and continues to visit Guatemala regularly.
The recent mishap is one of a handful of United customer relations crises in 2017. The airline made headlines in April for a viral video of a passenger being dragged off a flight for refusing to give up his seat to flight crew. The airline came under fire just two months later after another video — shot in 2015 — emerged depicting a United employee assaulting a 71-year-old man.
Simon did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment in time for publication.
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