Editor's note: The company that handles security for the Pepsi Center is pushing back against accusations of racial profiling put forward by Gazella Bensreiti and has released a video of the incident itself. Learn more in our post "Pepsi Center Security Company Pushes Back Against Woman's Racism Claim." Continue for our previous coverage.
On November 5, the Denver Nuggets bullied the Miami Heat in their most impressive victory of the season. But Gazella Bensreiti, a Muslim mother of three girls, says she was given similar treatment before the game simply for wearing a hijab — an act being decried by the Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) at a press conference this morning.
Bensreiti publicly shared her account of what happened in a November 8 Facebook post. "Hey friends!" it begins. "As you all know, I’m not very active on here. Recently, I was a victim of blatant racial profiling and discrimination. I figured social media is the best tool for getting information out as my experience was absolutely horrifying."
At about 4:25 p.m. on November 5, she arrived at the Pepsi Center, where one of her daughters was scheduled to perform the national anthem with her school choir. "I was instructed to retrieve my ticket from will call by the school officials," she writes. "Upon entering, a woman named Dorothea put her hand to my face and told me that I would have to 'take that thing off' of my head. I told her that I would not take it off due to religious reasons. I was wearing a turban/cap. I explained to her that it was my hijab and that I would not be taking it off, to which she responded, 'I don’t care, you can’t come in with it on.' I then asked if she’d be willing to take me to the side so that I could remove it and show her my entire head in private. Again, she told me no."
If the Pepsi Center had a new anti-headwear policy, it wasn't being applied equally: "There were more than five white men standing ahead of me with baseball caps on," Bensreiti notes, adding that "My eight-year-old daughter became distraught and was pulling on my arm asking if they weren’t going to let me in to watch her perform. Dorothea then went into an office and came out and waved to me to go ahead through, without making eye contact or even acknowledging me as a human being, but ushered me like an animal."
At that point, Bensreiti says, "we were then instructed to return to will call because our tickets weren’t ready. I left and sat in my car and cried. I couldn’t even believe what just happened. At 5:30, I returned to retrieve my ticket and asked for her name along with the other security person that was working. Doreen gladly gave me her name, but the woman that wasn’t allowing me entry covered her name and told me that she wouldn’t be giving me her name. She then began berating me and yelling at me. There are parents that were witness to her onslaught. I told her to stop talking to me, to which she responded, 'I’m going to set you straight.' She then ran to the back again and had her manager speak with me. I told him that I wasn’t interested in talking to anyone and he wanted to know what happened. I told him my side of the story and he asked if I’d like to speak with someone about it. I told him that I would be seeking legal advice and will be filing an official complaint. He was cordial and left me alone after that."
She concludes her post with this: "I have never experienced this type of trauma in my entire life. I know my rights as an American citizen. Not only did she traumatize me and my daughter, she infringed upon my civil rights. I have never felt so embarrassed and broken before.... What happened is unacceptable and I want to make sure that it won’t happen again."
That's also the goal of CAIR, whose release about today's event, scheduled to take place at 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado Muslim Society, 2071 South Parker Road, notes that speakers "will call on Pepsi Center officials to investigate the incident and to take appropriate actions, including a change in its policy regarding religious attire of event attendees."
"Pepsi Center prides itself on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all patrons regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, disability and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding on November 5 when a security agent didn’t recognize that Ms. Bensreiti was wearing a hijab. A supervisor quickly intervened, and Ms. Bensreiti entered.
"We have reached out to Ms. Bensreiti and look forward to engaging in honest discourse that leads to greater awareness and an opportunity to further celebrate the diversity that makes Denver such a special place. While the matter is still under review, we are taking steps to modify our screening process and provide additional education for our staff."
Last night, by the way, the Nuggets were at the Pepsi Center again, falling to the Atlanta Hawks 125 to 121. Another loss is likely on the way.
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