In a viral video that can be viewed here, four Philadelphia police officers backed up by about six more officers can be seen forcibly dragging a man off of a SEPTA bus, apparently, for not wearing a face mask.
The Philadelphia Police Department said Friday afternoon that the incident began that morning with 911 calls about a disturbance on a SEPTA bus at 1100 Market Street. A SEPTA bus driver requested that the man “leave the bus several times and the passenger repeatedly refused,” said a police spokesperson.
The officers arrived and “ordered the male to leave the bus several times. The male refused, at which point the officers physically removed him,” police said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf asked Pennsylvania residents to wear a cloth mask whenever they leave their houses in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state. Last week, SEPTA took that request one ill-advised step further and instituted a mandate that riders wear a face mask while in transit. That requirement was swiftly reversed once video footage of the incident went viral on social media.
“Today’s incident involving the [Philadelphia Police Department]…may be more than just a face-covering enforcement, but it has caused SEPTA to reevaluate whether riders should be required to wear a face covering,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said in an email sent Friday to the transit police force. “We can no longer use a lack of face-covering or traveling for nonessential reasons as a reason to conduct police contact.”
If you’re wondering why the unnamed man, who is black, wasn’t wearing a mask to protect himself and others from COVID-19 infection, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with plausible reasons.
Perhaps he was confused by conflicting CDC reports, which at one point said that wearing face masks didn’t help protect individuals from infection and are only really useful to medical professionals, and now recommend that people do wear them and that they do help. Maybe he didn’t trust his own homemade face shield skills but also didn’t want to contribute to nationwide shortages of surgical masks needed by nurses and doctors on the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus.
Or maybe he was simply afraid that face masks on black men put us at greater risk of being suspected as criminals and targeted by police. It would be a shame if that were the actual reason he chose not to wear one, only to be caught in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation as he ended up being accosted by police anyway.
Either way, SEPTA ended its short-lived requirement that face coverings be worn and are now only urging people to wear them, noting that it doesn’t have to be an actual mask.
“The covering can be as simple as a shirt, bandana, or anything else someone can grab at home before they head out,” said spokesperson Andrew Busch via email. “At a minimum, these masks and facial coverings could help keep the person wearing them from spreading germs, and if everyone wears them, we would have a great deal of added protection.”
It’s also worth mentioning that SEPTA’s new Lifeline schedule, which went into effect Thursday, closed several subway stops along with about half of the city’s bus and trolley routes. Maybe this has something to do with why a man might have been so desperate in his refusal to leave a bus. Public transportation in the city is now severely limited, and yet, people still have places to go.