A popular movie chain is being sued for racially profiling a Black man who its staff falsely accused of sneaking into a theater nearly two years ago in Arizona.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and other lawyers announced the lawsuit against AMC Theatres on Wednesday at a press conference alongside Larry Shelton, who recorded his encounter with theater staff that falsely accused him as well as officers with the Phoenix Police Department.
Shelton during the press conference that said he has been experiencing anxiety and has not entered a movie theater since the encounter on March 10, 2019. He said it’s caused him to experience flashbacks of his youth growing up in the inner city when he was constantly harassed by police officers.
“That same feeling came upon me during this situation,” Shelton said before adding later: “I just want justice to be done.”
Shelton said he went out of the theater to refill his drink in the middle of a movie. But when he returned to the theater and tried to come back in, the manager accused him of trying to sneak in. He told the manager he bought a ticket, advised him to check surveillance footage for confirmation and continued back to his seat.
That’s when a theater security guard confronted Shelton and made the same accusation.
Watch the video below.
Unbeknownst to Shelton, the manager called the police, who entered the theater to escort him out.
That’s when Shelton was forced to “fight against the presumption of guilt,” as Crump put it, just to prove his innocence despite the absence of any proof or evidence of any wrongdoing.
After the police asked, Shelton produced his ticket stub, which was reluctantly verified by the theater manager.
But the manager, who previously said he was “100% sure” Shelton sneaked in, still said Shelton had to leave and asked the police to ecort him off the premises.
At the time, Shelton could be heard on the video he recorded prophetically telling the manager, “This is gonna be bad for y’all.”
“It just seemed to me that [the manager] just wanted to be nasty,” Shelton said during the press conference. “Just the whole experience has definitely impacted my life in a negative way.”
Attorney Jasmine Rand said the incident was racist.
“This white male manager was acting out of racial bias,” Rand said. “He was determined he was going to kick Mr. Shelton out of the movie theater that day because he was Black.”
Rand said the lawsuit was being filed now because the two-year statute of limitations was set to expire soon.
She said AMC apologized and announced plans for racial bias training for its staff. But that’s not enough, Rand said
“This is not about a single case,” Rand pointed out. “It is about equal rights and equal justice to public accommodations to African Americans.”
Rand added: “We want to make sure we pursue all of Mr. Shelton’s rights to make sure AMC no longer discriminates against people of color.”
Despite ongoing protests against racism and a purported overall racial reckoning happening around the country, racial profiling is an issue that has gone unchecked before and after Shelton’s experience in Phoenix.
Crump pointed to an incident late last year in New York City where a woman falsely accused a teenager of stealing her cellphone and even assaulted him in another instance of racial profiling recorded on video. Her phone was later found elsewhere.
Crump said there needs to be accountability for those kinds of defamatory and damaging actions.
“When you think about — in that moment — how the AMC Movie Corp. made this African American law abiding citizen feel, we have to speak to these issues to say that we deserve better and we demand better. We’re demanding better for the pain and harm they caused,” Crump said at the press conference. “If he had resisted, this could have had a much more tragic ending. That’s why we’re fighting. That’s why we’re filing this lawsuit.”