Stores nationwide have reopened and in the process, many of them have implemented safety precautions to protect workers and shoppers from COVID-19. Recent research has shown that wearing a mask can significantly prevent contraction of COVID-19, yet some people still resist—and some do so violently.
Viral videos on social media have captured a number of incidents in which individuals refusing to wear a mask have not only attacked but even killed those who have asked them to do so. Despite the surge in cases throughout the country and stories being shared of those who experienced the horrors of COVID-19 after calling it a hoax, some individuals just won’t budge.
(WARNING: This story contains violent video, photos, and language that may not be suitable for all readers.)
In one video, a woman from Thomasville, North Carolina, creates a scene in a fast-food restaurant when asked to wear a mask. The woman, identified by Newsweek as Jennifer Kaye, can be heard yelling phrases like “Trump 2020” and “our lives matter” when ranting about her right to not wear a mask in public.
"We don't cover our faces in America. They don't control us, we're Americans," Kaye yelled as she picked up her food from the takeout counter. When a man in line tells her to get away from him, Kaye bursts out into a rant, yelling and creating a scene "You must be a Democrat. You worship Obama don't you? Peace. Love. Harmony. Trump 2020, baby. F**king Democrat, antifa motherf**ker, Black Lives Matter motherf**ker, our lives matter," Kaye said. The video, shared Sunday by Rex Chapman, received over 40,000 likes within hours.
In Michigan, a man did more than just yell profanities. According to NBC News, Sean Ernest Ruis stabbed another customer before being shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy at a Quality Dairy convenience store. The incident began when a 77-year-old customer asked Ruis to cover his face after the store refused service to Ruis. He proceeded to stab the other customer, police said. Graphic footage of the confrontation was shared by the police department, in which the deputy can be heard saying "Drop the knife!" and "Drop the weapon!" several times.
This isn’t the only incident of its kind to occur in Michigan. In May, Daily Kos reported about an incident in which a security guard at a Dollar General store was brutally murdered when a woman refused to wear a mask.
Texas resident Joe Rogers told The New York Times he has confronted a number of people about not wearing a mask, including one incident that got physical. “I’ve been in shouting matches with people at CVS. People just don’t understand it. If everyone just wore a mask, this would be over.”
Rogers described the incident that got physical, in which he said he noticed a customer behind him in line at a mini-mart not wearing a mask. Rogers shook his head at that customer, who then asked him why he did so. “I wear a full face guard, the mask that they use when they spray pesticides,” Rogers told the Times. “He reached for my mask and tried to pull it off.” Rogers added that his “natural instinct” kicked in, causing him to knock the man to the floor.
In states where officials are requiring residents to wear masks, fights seem to be occurring more often. A week after a statewide order in California mandating residents to wear masks in public, Hugo’s Tacos, a taqueria with two locations in the Los Angeles area, announced a temporary closure because staff members were “exhausted by the constant conflicts over guests refusing to wear masks,” The New York Times reported.
According to company CEO Bill Kohne, staff were abused with racist language, in addition to observing five confrontations over masks within one hour. “The one that we most viscerally remember is that a customer at the pickup window who was asked to wear a mask literally threw a cup of water through the window at the clerk,” Kohne said.
A customer even sent the following email: “Why is it the responsibility of a taco stand to dictate to its customers a personal freedom of choosing to wear or not wear a mask!” The email concluded with: “Go to hell taco man. Close permanently! Do us all a favor!”
Unmasked individuals are also openly intimidating employees with guns, fearless of the consequences. In Kansas City, Arlo Kinsley was threatened by a man wearing a red Make America Great Again hat but no mask at the BBQ restaurant where he works. Kinsey requested the man wear a mask, per the statewide mandate in place. According to the Kansas City Star, the man then told Kinsley he had an exemption and proceeded to lift his shirt and reveal a gun in a holster on his hip.
“My first thought was, I work in customer service and this is really what’s going to happen? All we’re asking is that you wear a mask for a couple of minutes. We could have taken your order outside if you didn’t want to. But you go into an air conditioned area without a mask on, and if I tell you to wear one, you’re going to shoot me? Wow. I make $8.50 an hour, plus tips—for this?”
Stores across the country are implementing mask protocols regardless if the state they are located in requires masks, including the country’s largest retailer, Walmart. An unmasked man not only threatened to kill but pulled a gun on another shopper over refusal to wear a mask in a Florida Walmart store, sheriff's officials said. Store security footage shows the incident in which a mask-wearing individual approached the unmasked man who was pushing an older man in a wheelchair. The two exchange words before the unmasked man threatens the other.
Essential and retail workers across the country risk both the increased chance of infection and potential physical harm as individuals rebel and retaliate against safety regulations employees are asked to enforce. More safety protocols must be put in place to protect these individuals and by enforcing mask mandates nationwide, the responsibility to enforce safety measures will not be placed on individual employees. America must do better.