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Charles Theatre shut down after shooting threat

The Charles Theatre in Baltimore is one of the region's premier destinations for independent and first-run films.
The Charles Theatre in Baltimore is one of the region's premier destinations for independent and first-run films. (By Jack Lambert / Baltimore Sun)

A reported shooting threat during a screening of a documentary about the Black Panther movement shut down the Charles Theatre on Saturday.

Buzz Cusack, owner of the Charles, said a call about the threat came in around 1 p.m. from the New York distributors of the documentary "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution," who informed him that there was a message on Twitter claiming that a shooting would take place during the film's 1:15 p.m. showing.

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Cusack said he called police and headed to the theatre, which was evacuated.

Detective Jeremy Silbert of the Baltimore Police Department said officers were investigating "a threat posted on social media," about the Charles Theatre. Police were informed of the threat around 1:30 p.m., he said.

"In addition to our investigation, and out of an abundance of caution, we have increased patrols around the movie theater," Silbert said.

Cusack said that all screenings of all movies at the Charles were canceled for the rest of Saturday.

He allowed staff, who he said were "alarmed," to go home.

"I just hate reacting to these things," Cusack said.

The cancellations included three more screenings of the acclaimed Black Panther documentary, which drew its award-winning director, Stanley Nelson, to Baltimore on Saturday. He was to participate in a Q&A with moviegoers after the 1:15 p.m. showing.

Baltimore was his latest stop following the film's release; in recent days he has held discussions at showings in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Shortly after people were allowed to return to the theatre, a small group of moviegoers stood huddled around Nelson at the popcorn counter discussing the film — which was about 30 minutes from ending when the evacuation occurred.

A visibly disappointed Nelson said he has enjoyed talking with moviegoers, and said he was still looking forward to a "wonderful discussion in Baltimore."

With police on hand, Cusack allowed that screening of the film to be completed, and Nelson said he planned to continue the discussion when it ended.

"We don't have a huge publicity budget, so it's all been word of mouth and opportunities like these," he said. "We've been getting out talking to as many people as we can."

The discussion was to have been moderated by Deray McKesson, a civil rights activist and Baltimore native who became a renowned, albeit controversial, protester on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement.

McKesson said he remained unshaken by the threat, which he noted was made only against the screening he and Nelson were attending.

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"I will never be afraid to be in spaces where the truth is spoken," he said. "These threats are an attempt to silence us, to manifest fear in ways that limit community-building. I remain as unafraid as I have ever been while remaining aware of the context within which we struggle."

Maurice Vann, a professor of social work and criminal justice who splits his time between New York and Baltimore, said he was excited for the screening, and especially to have McKesson and Nelson in the same room. He left, however, before the movie resumed.

"This was an opportunity to see an intergenerational connection, that I felt lucky to purchase the right tickets for," Vann said. "I understand the liability, and the theatre reacting this way, but I was just really excited."

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