Bus Passengers Attack Driver Trying to Enforce Mask Use With Wooden Bat, Racial Slurs and Spit

A San Francisco bus driver was attacked by three passengers while he was trying to enforce the city's mask requirement onboard a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) bus last week.

The driver was operating the bus on the afternoon of July 22 in the South of Market district when three male passengers without face coverings boarded the bus, according to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). Police said the driver pulled over to remove the passengers after they refused his repeated requests to put masks on, which the SFMTA and the city require all people wear while using public transportation.

One of the passengers then used a wooden bat to beat the driver, police said. The SFPD told Newsweek no one has been arrested in connection with the incident.

San Francisco Muni bus
People wear masks as they wait in a bus shelter for a San Francisco MUNI bus during the coronavirus pandemic on April 6, 2020 in San Francisco, California. A bus driver was attacked by three unmasked passengers last week while trying to enforce the city’s face covering mandate. Justin Sullivan/Getty

The Transport Workers Union Local 250, which represents Muni bus employees, told the San Francisco Chronicle the passengers also used racial slurs during their attack on the Asian American driver.

Roger Marenco, the union president, described the object used in the attack as a souvenir bat. He told the paper the driver sustained bruising and a fractured finger in the incident, which he described as "extremely scary."

"They spit on him as well," Marenco told the Chronicle. "That right there is another serious assault, especially in today's times."

According to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the number of racially motivated attacks on Asian Americans has increased since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the U.S. The AALDEF attributes this uptick in part to President Donald Trump, who has defended his use of terms like "China virus" and "kung flu" in public discussions about COVID-19.

Wearing face coverings in public settings also took on a political tone during the spring as Trump repeatedly brushed off encouragements from several of his advisers to wear one himself. Though Trump publicly endorsed face coverings as a preventative measure all Americans should take to prevent further spread of the virus last week, some Republicans said the move came too late.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health introduced a face covering order in late May, less than two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Americans wear them while in public and in other settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. San Francisco's current mask mandate, which the city health department updated last week, requires all drivers and passengers to wear face coverings while operating, riding or waiting for public transportation.

San Francisco police said they were not investigating the incident last week as a hate crime, but said the passengers' refusal to abide by the public health order was a factor as they looked into the incident further.

"There is no indication that race was a factor in this assault," police said. "This is being investigated as an aggravated assault along with the health order violation."

Newsweek reached out to the SFMTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 250 for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.