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My friends, Ismael and Ashley Jimenez, describe an haunting encounter they had while #ParentingWhileBlack at a movie theater a few days ago. The police were called on them in order to harass and intimidate them.
Meanwhile, what it mostly did was put them in danger while they were simply #GoingToTheMoviesWhileBlack. Selling water or cigarettes, spending time with family either at a barbeque or at the movie theater can never be assumed to be routine if you’re Black in America.
By Sharif El-Mekki
On Friday, June 22nd, our family was watching a movie and a continuous beeping sound disrupted our experience. The management at the theater failed to address the technical disruption at which point we requested and received a full refund for our tickets, and were to exit the theater immediately.
At this point, we informed the General Manager that we needed to return to the theater to retrieve our children, and we were told that we could not reenter the theater. The directive to leave without our children was unacceptable, causing my wife to go back and retrieve them, prompting the General Manager to call the police and send onsite security to confront us outside the theater.
Our family’s experience at Cinemark 6 at 40th and Walnut on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the Black experience
of men, women, and children throughout America.
Historically and presently, white America uses authority derived from the state to maintain control through policing of Black lives. Recent incidents throughout America, from the disruption of a family barbeque in Oakland, to the arrest of two Black men from a Starbucks in Philadelphia, demonstrate an unreconciled contradiction regarding race in our society.
By simply not being willing to be intimidated or afraid, we were perceived as needing to be put in our place. The calling of the police simply for refusing to leave without retrieving our children from the theater was a complete affront to our human dignity, not only as Black people but as parents. We have a responsibility to stand firm – individually and collectively – against injustice
perpetrated against Black people.
As of the writing of this statement, the corporate offices of Cinemark have yet to follow up with our formal complaint, despite being assured several times by representatives that we would be contacted regarding this matter. As such, we along with other grassroots racial justice oriented organizations within the city of Philadelphia, are demanding:
The firing of the General Manager on shift who unnecessarily contacted the police on a Black family for simply refusing to leave the theater without the children that they came with.
- A clearly written and articulated policy and procedure for contacting police if an incident does arise at the theater.
- Investment from Cinemark corporation in training for conflict resolution for all staff and the replacement of hired security with certified mediation specialists.
- An end to the draconian and unreasonable implementation of a bag restriction policy at the theater that has caused previous unnecessary conflicts due to it being an arbitrary measure to criminalize and police people.
- At the root of this issue is civilians attempting to police Black life, and when faced with any resistance they weaponize the police force by calling them in to “deal” with situations that can be resolved without police presence.
- These individuals are putting an undue burden on local and state governments, while simultaneously diverting much needed resources towards frivolous circumstances. Therefore we call on city council and/ or Pennsylvania state legislature to pass legislation meant to deter these frivolous misuses of police enforcement.
If you are dedicated to affirming the dignity of Black life and the Black family, we call on you to contact the Cinemark corporate office and assist us in pressuring this establishment to implement policies & procedures that recognizes the humanity of all its customers.
In addition, if you are interested in supporting organizing work in this area, we ask for any monetary donations to be sent to Black Lives Matter Philly chapter or the Caucus of Working Educators’ Racial Justice Committee, who do the important grassroots work around issues of racial justice in Philadelphia.
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Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.