Ismael Jimenez and his family returned to the Cinemark at 40th and Walnut streets in West Philadelphia on Friday to lead a protest over an incident a week earlier when police were called to the theater.
Jimenez appeared outside the front door with several supporters, friends and members of local organizations and called for Cinemark USA to remove the theater’s manager over the incident. He also called for a nationwide boycott of Cinemark theaters.
Cinemark’s vice president flew to Philadelphia to discuss the situation Thursday.
The incident occurred on June 22, when Jimenez, his wife and seven children attended a movie at the theater. After the movie began, Jimenez and his wife asked the general manager for a refund because of a disturbance in the theater.
They received a refund, but Jimenez maintains that he and his wife were prevented from re-entering the theater to get the children. A Cinemark spokesman disputed that, saying the family was never restricted from retrieving the children.
When Ashley Jimenez re-entered the theater to get the children, the police were called and the family was confronted by at least a half-dozen officers and on-site security personnel. The confrontation was recorded and posted on social media.
Jimenez said Friday that it was “nutty” that police were called. “We made it very clear and they basically said no and that they were going to contact the police as soon as we started walking back there,” Jimenez said.
After calling for his resignation, Jimenez said the manager should take African-American studies courses at a university. “He needs to get himself educated on how he looks and views people by default,” Jimenez said.
His wife, Ashley, spoke with a megaphone while protesters rallied with signs saying “Keep families together” and Black Lives Matter banners.
Jimenez said he feels a lot of racism was closeted during former President Barack Obama’s time in office, and President Donald Trump has amplified a “silent majority” during his presidency.
“Now we have a situation where it’s somebody who is in office right now that represents white supremacist values and those people feel emboldened now,” he said.
“Black people are simply tolerated, and when they are no longer tolerable, that is when situations like this occur.”
Flowerrosy Nguyen, a 21-year-old resident of North Philadelphia who called Jimenez her mentor, described the events Jimenez faced as “disgusting” and “tragic” and said they were part of a system that needs to get changed.
“They’re trying to get rid of us, plain and simple,” she said. “There are areas that were heavily populated with Black people that are now gentrified areas. There are areas where I grew up that I don’t live [in] anymore that are now condos and prices are so high.”
Nguyen said the manager should either be fired or resign, and the training and protocol of Cinemark theaters need to be re-evaluated.
“It’s definitely deep-seeded racism ... people thinking, ‘They’re Black, I think they’re a threat because they are Black,’” she said.
In addition to demanding a boycott against Cinemark theaters, Jimenez and his family plan to continue grassroots activist work in the city. Jimenez also called for passing city and state legislation to deter “misuses of police enforcement.”
In an open letter to Cinemark posted online, Jimenez and his family requested that the company create a clear policy and procedures for contacting police in similar situations; provide conflict-resolution training to its staff; and replace hired security with certified mediation specialists, among other things.
A Cinemark spokesman did not directly respond to questions about those demands in an email.
The Cinemark spokesman said the family was never restricted from accessing the theater to retrieve the children.
“There was an erroneous social media report that mentioned the family was not permitted to return to the auditorium to retrieve their children,” the spokesman said. “At no time was the family restricted access to their children.”
The Cinemark spokesman said an off-duty Philadelphia police officer who was working security at the theater that night requested additional police presence.
“Eventually, one of the officers calmed the situation and the family left the theater,” the Cinemark spokesman said. “We regret that the family did not have a good movie-going experience. We welcome them back at any time.”
Tribune Staff Writer Michael D’Onofrio also contributed to this report.