Soccer Fan Says She Was Booted for Waving a Palestinian Flag
HOUSTON (CN) - The head of security at a Houston soccer stadium forced a woman to stop waving a Palestinian flag during an Israel v. Honduras match, telling her "it implied a 'racial slur,'" the Palestinian-American woman claims in court.
Buthayna Hammad, 30, sued Dynamo Stadium LLC and John Doe Houston police officers on Wednesday in Federal Court.
In the lawsuit, Hammad says she attended the June 1 match at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Houston Dynamo, with her Honduran boyfriend and his family.
Hammad says she and her boyfriend wore Honduran jerseys and she "also carried the Palestinian flag to show support for Honduras as well as pride for her origins."
The complaint includes a photo of Hammad, an olive-skinned woman with thick curly hair and striking eyes, at the game with the flag draped over her shoulders.
"A few minutes into the game, she and her boyfriend joined others at a bannister where they were hanging flags and putting them on display. Ms. Hammad was part of this group, waving her Palestinian flag. Before long, the group was asked to return to their seats, and they complied," the complaint states.
Hammad claims that less than 15 minutes into the game the stadium's security manager Nathan Buchanan approached and asked her to follow him to the concession area.
She and her boyfriend followed Buchanan to the concourse where they were met by two Houston police officers and two stadium security guards, she says.
Buchanan is not a party to the lawsuit.
"Buchanan demanded to know why she would bring the flag when Palestine is not playing and what the flag had to do with the match. He menacingly told her that she must surrender the flag the Palestinian flag because it implied a 'racial slur,'" the complaint states.
Hammad says she explained that she brought the flag to represent herself as a Palestinian-American, but Buchanan "demanded that she check in her flag" or "she would not be allowed to return to her seat."
During the conversation, Hammad says, other cops and security guards arrived "so that four stadium officers and four John Doe Houston officers now surrounded her."
Buchanan let her boyfriend return to his seat, she says, but blocked her from following.
"Hammad protested to the obstruction, at which point Buchanan replied that, since the stadium is a private establishment, they may prevent her from returning to her seat," the complaint states.
Hammad wrote a statement about the incident, which was published in a Free Press Houston story.
In the statement Hammad says she was fighting back tears as she argued with Buchanan.
Hammad wrote: "'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!'"
Her statement continues: "When I asked him if he would feel comfortable with his actions once my treatment became public, he offered a compromise which was that I could keep my flag as long as I did not wave it. ... I had spent over 15 minutes defending myself from being bullied. I missed the first half because I waved a Palestinian flag at an international match in my hometown.
"I am proud and honored to be an American, to be able to enjoy the civil liberties that people in many countries are not afforded, but I would have never thought that the influence of an Israeli soccer team on U.S. soil would compromise our most basic liberties."
Hammad says in the lawsuit that Buchanan had no reason to mess with her.
"Neither Ms. Hammad nor her boyfriend or any of the others in the party experienced any incident with other game-goers regarding her flag," the complaint states.
She seeks damages for civil rights violations, discrimination and false imprisonment.
Undaunted, Hammad says she plans to return to the stadium with her flag.
She seeks an injunction to "prevent defendants from taking further action that will violate her rights under the law when she returns for other soccer games."
She is represented by Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Amin Alehashem.
Gina Rotolo, a spokeswoman for the Houston Dynamo's parent corporation, told Free Press Houston that Hammad had "instigated the crowd by waving the Palestinian flag in front of Israeli supporters."
Rotolo added: "Given that her actions caused emotions to escalate, the appropriate course of action, in our eyes, was to ask her to please refrain from waving the flag."
In her statement Hammad says the flag she wore also causes problems for Palestinians in their own country.
"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," Hammad wrote.