When police confronted Ismael Jimenez and his family at a West Philadelphia movie theater in June, his wife made sure to capture it on video. The Jimenezes wanted evidence they had stayed calm as nearly 10 officers showed up amid a minor dispute with theater staff.
They also knew that without video — and without Facebook, where the clip amassed more than 75,000 views — people might just dismiss or question what happened, if they noticed at all.
"I don't think that there would be a public reaction" without the video, said Jimenez, 36, a schoolteacher from North Philadelphia. "I think it would have been chalked up to another situation of folks just being mistreated."
Across the region, people of color — and some white people defending them — have taken to social media to expose alleged instances of racial discrimination. There was the arrest of two black men at a Center City Starbucks, the arrest of a black teenager at the Philadelphia Zoo, the black man questioned by armed security at Dorney Park, the Coatesville driver called the N-word and told to "Go to Africa." Nationally, videos have also caught white people calling or complaining to the police about a black girl selling water bottles, black men barbecuing in a park, and a black woman spending time at a swimming pool with her child.
"It's confirmation for a reality and a lived experience that a demographic of our society has endured for generations," said Aaron Smith, assistant professor of Africology and African American studies at Temple University.
And social media has allowed for an immediate reaction.
Black and Hispanic people are much more likely than white people to say social media is an important resource for finding others who share their views about important issues, the Pew Research Center has found.
The center also asked Americans earlier this year whether social media highlights or distracts people from important issues, and the answers differed somewhat by race: More black people said social media highlights issues that "might not get a lot of attention otherwise," while more white people said it distracts "from issues that are truly important."
"The mainstream news is curated with a particular reader in mind," said Stacy Hawkins, a professor at Rutgers Law School who specializes in diversity issues. She was not involved in the Knight research but said that, generally speaking, "many people who are minorities, in any sense of the word, might find the need to supplement their consumption of information with other sources."
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The recorded incidents that stoked some of the biggest conversations in Philadelphia this year were originally shared on social media, which then prompted attention and news coverage.
Whether the videos change views of race — particularly among white people — is another question.
Smith, the Temple professor, sees the videos more as a galvanizing force for people of color than as a way to convince white skeptics that racism is deeply entrenched in society. It's not as if the evidence wasn't already there, he said: Racism has been well-documented throughout history, from slavery to violence against civil rights activists to cities erupting in race riots.
Some white people have taken action to counter racial discrimination in light of encounters that gained attention through social media. Melissa DePino, the white woman who recorded the Starbucks arrests in April, collaborated with a black woman to create From Privilege to Progress, a project meant to get white people to share the experiences of people of color.
Here are some of the local videos, including DePino's, that have prompted conversations about race this year:
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, 23-year-old entrepreneurs, were sitting in the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets waiting for a business associate in April when the store manager called police.
A video of their arrests was posted to Twitter, sparking nationwide outrage, days of protests in Philadelphia, and an apology from the city's police commissioner. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the arrests "reprehensible," and the coffee chain closed all its U.S. stores for an afternoon to conduct anti-bias training.
Nelson and Robinson eventually reached an agreement with the city, which said it would pay them $1 each and set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs. They reached a separate financial settlement with Starbucks.
About 10 officers responded to the Cinemark at 40th and Walnut Streets in June after Ismael and Ashley Jimenez had a dispute with theater staff over retrieving their children from a showing of Jurassic World. The parents had walked out of the showing to request a refund because of a loud beeping noise near them; a movie official granted the refund but then told the parents they could not reenter the showing to get their children, the Jimenezes said.
A police officer working at the theater witnessed the dispute and advised radio communications he was responding to a disturbance. Police said numerous officers then responded to the theater because the officer did not reply when communications tried to reach him again.
Ashley Jimenez recorded her husband's encounter with officers and posted it to Facebook. She and her husband later held a rally outside the theater and called for a boycott of Cinemark.
A zoo public safety officer in July asked a group of boys to leave the plaza outside the zoo's gates, where they often solicited money, a zoo spokesperson said. The group began to leave but made a "threatening remark" to a safety officer, who then flagged down a passing Philadelphia police cruiser, the spokesperson said.
A bystander recorded a video of police arresting one of the boys and posted it to Facebook. The recording also captured an argument between two zoo public safety officers, one white and one black. People who commented on the video said the boys regularly sold water there.
Benjamin Slater was at Dorney Park in June when he said a security officer approached him and demanded he show the inside of his pockets. The officer said Slater matched the description of a suspect going through purses and then ordered Slater to come with him.
Slater, who protested the treatment, was cited by police for using obscenities and "causing a public inconvenience." He was then escorted out of the park.