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Black family protests police response at West Philly movie theater; police blame radio miscommunication

Ismael Jimenez's family has called for a boycott of Cinemark. "We must stand up in the face of injustice," his wife, Ashley, said Friday.

Ismael Jimenez, left, rallies Friday outside the Cinemark theater where police confronted him and his family.
Ismael Jimenez, left, rallies Friday outside the Cinemark theater where police confronted him and his family.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

A black family confronted by about 10 police officers at a West Philadelphia movie theater last week called Friday for a boycott of Cinemark and highlighted the broader issue of white people and police officers immediately viewing black people as threats.

"We teach our children that fear is normal, but we must stand up in the face of injustice," Ashley Jimenez told nearly 60 people gathered outside the theater at 40th and Walnut Streets to support her family. "We are not afraid, and we will not go away."

Police have blamed last week's response on a radio miscommunication. They say an officer — who was working at the theater and had witnessed a dispute between white staff members and the Jimenez family — did not respond to radio communications, causing the department to put out an "assist officer" alert.

The department said the officer did not hear his radio due to "the surrounding noise" when he confronted Jimenez's husband, Ismael.

Police also said that "as best as we can determine at this time," no Cinemark staffers called 911. Jimenez, 36, a schoolteacher from North Philadelphia, said he believed a manager had done so because the manager had threatened to call police during their dispute.

The case has drawn national attention and comparisons to other cases in which black people were viewed as threats. This year, in various U.S. cities, videos have captured white people calling police on a black girl selling bottles of water, black men barbecuing in a park, a black woman sleeping in a common dorm room, and, in Philadelphia, black men sitting at a Starbucks.

The June 22 dispute started after Ismael and Ashley Jimenez requested a refund about an hour into the 7:45 p.m. showing of Jurassic World because a loud beeping noise kept going off near them, their four sons, and two of the sons' friends. The couple left the children — except for their youngest, a 3-year-old — in the theater and walked to the lobby to ask for a refund.

The manager provided the refund but said the Jimenezes could not reenter the theater, Ismael Jimenez said. The couple said they needed to get their children. The manager refused and, upon hearing they were going to get their kids, said he was calling the police, Jimenez said.

A Cinemark spokesman disputed Jimenez's account and said that "at no time was the family restricted access to their children."

Jimenez, a member of Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, said the first officer approached him while his wife went to retrieve the children. The officer, police said, had advised radio communications he was responding to a disturbance. But the officer did not answer when they tried to reach him again. That's when the "assist officer" alert went out, police said.

Jimenez, however, said his encounter with the officer was not initially loud. He questioned why the officer couldn't hear the radio.

"For me, this opens up other questions," Jimenez said. Police are conducting an internal review of the incident.

Ashley Jimenez, upon returning with the kids, recorded her husband's encounter with police and posted the video to Facebook, where it has drawn more than 70,000 views.

A second video recorded by a bystander shows several people questioning the large police presence. One man yelled, "Does this really call for more than six f— officers?"

An officer got into that man's face, while other officers approached.

During the ensuing back-and-forth, an officer said, "That's our protocol, somebody asked for help. We came to help."

A female officer said a few minutes later, "I've got one job: Protect and serve."

Terrence McGuckin, 37, who was recording the video, replied, "Well, I say we get back to it."

"Let's go," the female officer told the other officers, who started walking away. "Let's go."

At one point, an officer appeared to be using his own phone to record McGuckin.

No one was arrested.

At Friday's rally, the Jimenez family demanded that Cinemark have a clear policy on when police should be called and that the theater chain train staff on conflict resolution. The family faulted the manager, who they say refused to let them retrieve their children.

"Had I been white, I would have never been told that," Ashley Jimenez said. "And God forbid that I stand up for my family and go get my children anyway."

"They got told, 'If you don't act and behave in a way in which we accept, you must leave,' " said Melissa Robbins, a radio personality for WURD. "And that's not OK."

The rally ended with chants of "boycott Cinemark."