Family calls for boycott of Cinemark theaters after West Philly altercation

Dozens rally in support of family after minor incident results in 10 Philadelphia police officers responding to theater

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Demonstrators rally outside the Cinemark Theatres in Philadelphia. Last week, police were called on a black family who were unsatisfied with their movie experience. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Demonstrators rally outside the Cinemark Theatres in Philadelphia. Last week, police were called on a black family who were unsatisfied with their movie experience. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

About 60 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of Cinemark Theatres in West Philadelphia Friday to support Ashley and Ismael Jimenez. Members from Black Lives Matter Philly and the Caucus of Working Educators showed their support for the couple and their family following an altercation involving police last week.

While visiting the theater for the opening night of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the couple — accompanied by their four children and two friends — was involved in a minor dispute with a manager that resulted in 10 Philadelphia officers confronting them.

The Jimenezes are now calling for a boycott of the theater chain until it agrees to a list of demands:

  • Firing the general manager they say escalated the situation.
  • Implementing a policy and procedure for the theater to contact police.
  • Training all staff in conflict resolution.
  • Replacing security officers with certified mediation specialists.
  • Ending the policy that restricts backpacks and bags.

Cinemark theater has 525 locations in the U.S. and Latin America.

According to the couple, a constant beeping noise kept them from enjoying the movie, so they decided to ask for their money back. They left five of the children in the auditorium, and took the youngest, a 3-year-old, with them.

Ismael Jimenez, 36, a teacher at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, and his wife, Ashley, were asked to leave a movie theater after they received a refund for a disturbing beeping noise. The theater manager called the police and restricted the couple from getting their children who were still inside watching the movie. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

After they received the refund, they said, the manager prevented the from going back into the auditorium to get the other children.

When Ashley Jimenez went in to get the children anyway, an on-site security officer responded and called Philadelphia police to report the incident.

Minutes later, Ismael Jimenez, a member of Black Lives Matter Philly and the Caucus of Working Educators, was surrounded by six police officers. The interaction was caught on video by his wife, Ashley, a social worker.

Seeing his father, a history teacher, surrounded by officers distressed 11-year-old Ismael Jimenez IV so much that he vomited, his parents said.

“It felt scary,” the child said. “I’m a little shaky, but I’m getting over it.”

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, the number of officers who showed up was the result of failed radio communication. An officer defused the situation, however, and there were no arrests.

When the video of the incident began circulating via social media, Cinemark released a statement disputing the family’s claim that they were denied access to their children.

WHYY reached out to Cinemark for an interview, but the company declined.

“On Friday evening, members of the Jimenez family informed theatre management about an unidentified beeping noise emanating from outside the auditorium that was disturbing the presentation of the movie,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Upon their request, we issued full refunds to the family for their tickets as well as their concession purchases. There was an erroneous social media report that mentioned the family was not permitted to return to the auditorium to retrieve their children. At no time was the family restricted access to their children.

“A Philadelphia police officer, who was working security at the theatre, was monitoring the situation and requested additional police presence. Eventually, one of the officers calmed the situation and the family left the theatre. We regret that the family did not have a good movie-going experience. We welcome them back at any time.”

This is the second time in 2018 that Philadelphia has been in the headlines over a frivolous police call. The April arrest of two black men for sitting in a Starbucks set off a nationwide dialogue about being black in public and private spaces.

After the Starbucks incident, Police Commissioner Richard Ross apologized to the two men involved, acknowledging that the department must do a better job of communication. He said at that time the department was working on a new policy for handling similar calls.

As the mother of four sons, Ashley Jimenez, a social worker, said the incident is a reminder of the challenges black men and boys face.

“It reminds us, us being Ismael and myself, that our boys have an ugly cruel world that they’re going to have to face,” she said. “And the best thing that we can do is prepare them for that.”

The Jimenez family is also urging City Council and Pennsylvania state lawmakers to pass legislation to deter “frivolous misuses” of law enforcement. They said they’ve reached out to several lawmakers and have yet to receive a response, though Councilwoman Helen Gym did show her support for the family via social media.

Update: This story has been updated to include a comment from Cinemark.

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