Houston stadium security detains soccer fan for waving Palestinian flag as ‘racial slur’

Fans frequently wave flags at sports games and Hammad said she made sure her Palestinian flag complied with stadium regulations
Houston stadium security detains soccer fan for waving Palestinian flag as ‘racial slur’

by Annie Robbins | Mondoweiss | June 8, 2014


Last Sunday, Palestinian-American Buthayna Hammad attended a soccer match at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston’s downtown 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, home to the Houston Dynamo. About 15 minutes after the game started Hammad was approached by the head of Compass Stadium’s security Nathan Buchanan. Soon she encountered a total of eight security officials, four from stadium security and the other four, Houston police officers.

Why? because she was waving a Palestinian flag. Stadium security informed her that her Palestinian flag implied a “racial slur” and therefore was in violation of BBVA Compass Stadium rules.

Hammad, a native of Houston, is an avid soccer fan. She attended the match with her “alt family from Honduras” including her Honduran boyfriend. The match was between Israel and Honduras.

The implications of this story are mind-numbing, and we’ll discuss that later. First, in Buthayna Hammad’s own words, cited in Free Press Houston (FPR): “Mere Existence of Palestine Deemed a ‘Threatening Racial Slur’ by the Houston Dynamo Organization.”

I wore a Honduras jersey and was eager to cheer on this team, dressed to represent Honduras. To represent my own heritage as a Palestinian-American, I also brought my Palestinian flag. I made sure my flag was allowed (based on the size, etc.) and I was all ready to go. For the first 15 minutes of the match I stood up and cheered and stomped my feet with the rest of the crowd chanting “HON-DU-RAS” and waving my Palestinian flag, my colors vibrant and loud against a sea of blue and white…and apparently also racist.

I was told I had to sit down, which I did, only to be told to get back up again and follow the manager of security away from the stadium seats and into the concession area. I followed, and there waiting for me were three more BBVA security personnel and four police officers. When I asked them what was wrong, the manager of security, Nathan Buchanan, told me I am not allowed to carry this flag because it implies a “racial slur” and it is in BBVA Compass Stadium violation.

I asked him to show me evidence of his accusations and asked him how my flag, a part of my identity as a Palestinian-American, implies a racial slur. He could not answer whether he did not know or could not articulate why he was ordered to remove my flag and me from my seat. I was getting very emotional at this point, I had my flag wrapped around my neck like a scarf, and he said he would take my flag and “check it in” for me, that I was not permitted to return to my seat until I surrendered my flag.

It’s almost too strange to believe. In a 22,000 seat stadium, security officials concerned themselves over Hammad waving her flag.

Another publication, Houston Press, (Security Didn’t Want Her Waving Palestinian Flag During Israel Game in Houston) attempted to contact the security manager Nathan Buchanan, but he’s not making himself available. A spokeswoman for BBVA Compass Stadium, Gina Rotola, appears to be walking back the inflammatory “racist” allegation. She told Houston Press that “A national flag from any country cannot be a racial slur, so if any statement of that nature were used, it would have been made incorrectly by an individual trying to deescalate a situation.”

Which begs the question, deescalate what situation?

Gina Rotola runs a PR boutique agency in Houston, in part specializing in media management, branding, and crisis communication. So what kind of excuse rationale did she come up with?

“[T]he decision to not allow the Palestinian flag to be displayed during the game was based on the sole intention of maintaining the safety of those in attendance. The flag bearer was instigating the crowd, and we felt it was important to diffuse a potentially volatile situation as emotions began to escalate. We instructed the patron that she could retain her flag but should refrain from waving it in front of fans from the other teams.”

That makes no sense. Fans frequently wave flags at sports games and Hammad said she made sure her Palestinian flag complied with stadium regulations. What does “waving it in front of fans from the other teams” mean in a stadium this size?

FPR’s Harbeer Sandhu asked Rotolo how Hammad was instigating the crowd. Her response? Astoundingly, Rotolo said that Hamad was waving her flag “in front of Israeli supporters” causing “emotions to escalate.” 

I have never been to a match at a sports stadium where emotions didn’t escalate, ever.  Who contacted security that day? Who complained about the flag?

Sandhu connects the dots any logical person might consider:

It is now considered “racist” for an American of Palestinian descent to wave her flag at fans of the Israeli soccer team.  The First Amendment can be suspended in a stadium built with taxpayer money because some Israeli soccer fans might be moved to violence by the mere sight of the Palestinian flag.  The good people of the Houston Dynamo Organization think that it is “racist” to merely remind Israeli soccer fans that Palestine exists.

I am trying to imagine what the complaint sounded like.  “Excuse me, Mr. Buchanan, that flag over there is really pissing me off–causing emotional distress–and I might have to hurt the lady holding it so you better get four cops to impound that flag or else I’m going to beat her up and it will be all her fault.”

What or who could have overridden Nathan Buchanan’s common sense in the stadium that day and caused eight security personnel to assemble for the purpose of confiscating a national flag from an enthusiastic sports fan? And more importantly, is it enough for BBVA Compass Stadium (parent company the Anschutz Entertainment Group)  to issue a statement from a crisis management professional sans any formal apology to Buthayna Hammad?

In her own words:

The Israeli government has banned Palestinians from hanging their flags outside their home, and arrests the occupants of the home for having it on display on their own land. Every day, in Occupied Palestine, Palestinians are denied entry to neighboring villages, to schools or their family’s home and in many cases to hospitals thanks to Israel’s apartheid state. Yes “apartheid,” that word implies racism, yet my flag implies a racial slur? I asked him several times if I could go back to my seat and he would spread his arms out to create a blockade with his body and his arms so I could not pass.

“This is private property,” he said.

I told him I paid for a ticket to enter. I could not keep my eyes from gathering tears, but forced myself from letting them fall.

“What country are we in again?” I asked. “Just because Israel is playing a match, does that mean you should treat me this way? Because of my Palestinian identity? I am a U.S. Citizen!”

Buthayna Hammad was eventually allowed to return to her seat after missing the first half of the game. A compromise was offered whereby Hammad was allowed to keep her flag as long as she didn’t wave it. 

Echoing Hammad, What country are we in again? And where’s the national press on this story? Is it fair to ask, had this been an Israeli flag would the NYT be covering it? Everyone would be on it. The ADL, Houston Chronicle, and where is ESPN?


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