A Colorado woman says she was racially profiled last week when she was told to remove her hijab before entering a Nuggets game.
The incident occurred on Nov. 5 when Denver hosted Miami Heat. The woman, 36-year-old Gazella Bensreiti, says she was at the arena to watch her 8-year-old daughter perform the national anthem with her school choir, but was initially denied entry because of her religious headscarf.
"I was instructed to retrieve my ticket from Will Call by the school officials," Bensreiti wrote on Facebook. "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.'"
Bensreiti said she then asked the security employee if they could go somewhere private so that she could remove hijab for inspection. The staffer refused.
"My 8-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," Bensreiti continued. "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."
Bensreiti called the experience horrifying. She and members of the Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations are now calling on Pepsi Center to investigate.
A spokeswoman for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the arena, told the Denver Post the incident was caused by a misunderstanding, as the security staffer "didn’t recognize that Ms. Bensreiti was wearing a hijab." The spokeswoman said a supervisor immediately intervened, and allowed the mother Bensreiti to enter.
"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," Becca Villanueva, Kroenke's director of marketing communications, wrote in an email to the Post. "While the matter is still under review, we are taking steps to modify our screening process and provide additional education for our staff."