Brittany Packnett, left, participates in a panel at The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture on May 11, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina; Symone Sanders at the ‘Pod Save America’ panel during Politicon on July 29, 2017 in Pasadena, California.
Photo: Jeff Hahne (Getty Images for Define American), Joshua Blanchard (Getty Images for Politicon)

You know, activists deserve vacations, too. (Possibly even more so than most.)

So, as activist-educator Brittany Packnett and political pundit Symone Sanders wrapped up an otherwise blissful trip to Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday evening (where they were guests of the International Fund for Animal Welfare), they were no doubt bracing themselves for a return to the daily grind.

What they were not expecting was to become victims of assault before they even boarded the plane.

Advertisement

While awaiting their flight home on Kenya Airways (a SkyTeam affiliate), the two friends were attempting to relax in Kenya Airways’ Simba Lounge as a clearly inebriated man nearby disturbed the peace of pretty much everyone within earshot.

Advertisement

“He was speaking loudly and cursing to someone on the phone,” Sanders told The Root. “The lounge attendant and two other people asked him to quiet down. I interjected after he was rude to the lounge attendant [another black woman, according to tweets by Packnett]. I leaned over and said, ‘Pardon me. Will you please keep it down?’”

“Then, he began speaking even louder,” Sanders continued. “We look over again and now he’s speaking in another language and giving us the middle finger... Mind you, we are sitting on the same bench.”

Advertisement

“So I get up and ask again, ‘Sir, please. This is ridiculous; no one is being rude to you, and you terrorizing the people in this lounge is not OK.’ He continues giving me the middle finger. ... I sit down, and then the flight attendant gets back up. Next thing we know, he jumps up and throws his water at the nearest person (Brittany)—like, drenches her whole body, then pushes her down. He lunges at her, then I jump in to defend her. It was terrifying.”

Advertisement

As both Sanders and Packnett recounted the story, the man was only subdued when other men intervened—a detail that’s telling, as well as the man’s treatment of the lounge attendant, who was the only other black woman mentioned in the incident.

Advertisement

But equally alarming to many watching the incident play out on social media: Despite heightened security in airports across the globe for nearly two decades, security was not immediately on the scene to address the issue. In fact, it took nearly 30 minutes for them to arrive. And even as Packnett identified the man who’d assaulted her, police were still not on the scene. Reportedly equally unresponsive were Delta’s staff, both in the lounge and on the phone.

Advertisement

Advertisement

As Sanders relayed, it took nearly an hour for police to arrive and arrest the attacker, identified as British citizen Duncan Conrad Hockey. Though Packnett and Sanders were able to depart Nairobi as planned, as of early this morning, neither Delta nor Kenya Airways had followed up or issued any statement on the matter.

Advertisement

But as traveling while black and female clearly remains a risky undertaking, so does being believed and perceived as a victim. While response to Packnett’s reporting of the incident received an outpouring of support, her identification of her attacker as a white man was met with an onslaught of criticism and added insult to injury.

Advertisement

The Root has reached out to both Delta Airlines and Kenya Airways for comment, and will update this story as needed.

Advertisement

Updated: 3/30/19 at 10:37 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this story identified the site of the attack as a Delta SkyClub lounge. Despite accounts given by Packnett and Sanders that they were flying a Delta affiliate and contacted Delta for support, a representative from Delta contacted The Root via email with the following statement:

“In your story you note Ms. Packnett was in a Delta Club where the incident took place.

Advertisement

It was actually a Kenyan airways lounge, as Delta does not have international lounges in Africa. Additionally her itinerary for her entire trip was never on a Delta aircraft. ... we reached out to both of the ladies to understand how we could better assist them.”