Police presence inside a showing of ‘The Butler’ causes outrage

theGRIO REPORT - A Washington D.C. woman says a weekend trip to see the movie, 'The Butler' was marred by the presence of police inside the theater...

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A Washington D.C. woman says a weekend trip to see the movie, The Butler was marred by the presence of police inside the theater. [This post has been updated]

Tiffany Flowers says she and her boyfriend, Alan Hanson, were attending a screening of the Lee Daniels film at the Regal Cinemas Majestic Stadium 20 theater in Silver Spring, Maryland Saturday, when the experience turned sour.

She said that after waiting in line and having their tickets double validated, with the second ticket taker just ten feet from the first employee to tear their stubs, she and Hanson approached the theater entrance, only to find a police officer directing people’s movements.

Flowers told theGrio the officer “herded everybody to the right, and then around the corner there’s another police officer, then we round the corner and there’s a third police officer.”

She said the police who remained inside the theater throughout the show were not in uniform, but dressed in all black with their badges exposed, and wearing bullet-proof vests, and that she later learned they were contracted by the Montgomery County Police Department. The Department did not have a spokesman available on Sunday.

And she said the crowd inside the theater was anything but rowdy.

“I’m 35 [years old] and Alan is 38,” she said. “There was not anyone there who would make you think there would be a possible disturbance.”

Flowers said that she was “seething” over the police presence throughout the film, but didn’t immediately say anything to theater personnel. “You don’t want to play the ‘black card,’ so to speak, and you almost don’t want to feel what you’re feeling, but then everyone around me was talking about feeling racially profiled and saying we don’t need the cops [in order] to see an Oprah flick. I turned to a couple next to me asked if they had ever experienced anything like this at the theater and they said no, and the woman was going to speak to management about what she thought was ill treatment.”

Flowers tweeted about the experience on Sunday, and her story drew an immediate and sharp Twitter response. Her tweet that “the almost entirely black audience” watching the film “was subjected to watching the film while armed guards faced the audience. Why?” received more than 400 retweets. She directed another tweet at Oprah Winfrey, who stars in the film alongside Forrest Whitaker, who plays the title role.

She responded to tweeters who expressed outrage, or who said they might night have been able to sit through the film given the police presence: “my blood was boiling.”

Flowers told theGrio she decided to contact the theater on Sunday, and spoke to Akiem Spicer, the manager on duty, who she said the theater uses police “crowd control” when they believe a movie will have a big opening. She said she asked Spicer whether police officers were used for the opening of the Matt Damon film Elysium last weekend and was told no. She said she asked Spicer what the last film to have similar “crowd control” was, and was told, “I think it was Harry Potter.”