Missouri Health Chief Says He Was Called Racist Slurs at Mask Mandate Meeting

The acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health said he was assaulted and subjected to racist abuse after speaking in favor of a mask mandate at a council meeting.

Dr. Faisal Khan spoke at the meeting on Tuesday night as the council was considering ending the mask mandate, despite a rise in coronavirus infections fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The following day, he wrote a letter to Council chairwoman Rita Heard Days, a Democrat, alleging he was subjected to "racist, xenophobic and threatening behavior" which he said was stoked by Councilman Tim Fitch and other Republican politicians.

A letter from Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Dept of Public Health, to the county council concerning last night's meeting on mask mandates. Read this. pic.twitter.com/LGSleUvagk

— Robert Cohen (@kodacohen) July 29, 2021

Fitch told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that Khan's allegations were baseless and that he was trying to provide political cover for County Executive Sam Page, who had called for the mask mandate.

Fitch said Khan was "in trouble" for giving someone the middle finger and was attempting to defect from that. Fitch's office has been contacted for additional comment.

In his letter to Days, Khan admitted to making the gesture, but said it came after an "angry" mob of people surrounded him, hurled racist slurs and assaulted him.

"I have never been subjected to the racist, xenophobic and threatening behavior that greeted me in the County Council meeting last night," Khan wrote in he letter, after noting he has worked around the globe to improve public health during his 25-year career and been a "proud citizen" of the U.S. since 2013.

In his letter, he said his time before the council began with a "dog-whistle question" from Fitch "who said he wanted to emphasize for the assembled crowd that I was not from this country." Fitch said it was an attempt to familiarize the audience with Khan's credentials.

Mask mandates are simply un-American.

— Mark McCloskey (@mccloskeyusa) July 27, 2021

Khan said Mark McCloskey, who was seated behind him, posted on social media that mask mandates are "un-American" around the time Fitch asked the question.

McCloskey, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, made headlines last summer after he and his wife brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their home.

Khan wrote that several people in the audience then started mocking his accent during his presentation, and he heard some impersonating Apu, a caricatured Indian character on The Simpsons.

Khan alleged that McCloskey, who he described as a member of the "MAGA" movement, and another Republican politician, Paul Berry, "consistently berated" him as he gave his presentation.

In a statement to Newsweek, McCloskey dismissed the allegation, saying Khan's letter was "a desperate attempt to distract from his disrespectful treatment of St. Louis countians and his actions."

He called for Khan's resignation, claiming his comments amounted to "the same type of response we always see from the liberal elite if you challenge them and their radical beliefs; you have to be a racist."

He added: "If Dr. Khan can't even hide his hatred of these patriots long enough to exit a Council meeting, perhaps it is time he exit the job of public health director."

But McCloskey noted that Khan was "right about one thing, I am a proud member of the MAGA movement and I will never back down from defending our freedoms and our Constitution."

Berry has been contacted for comment.

Khan's letter noted that when he asked Days to intervene to stop the heckling, she lectured him rather than those involved in it.

"Such demeaning treatment was surprising to me, as I had heard that you were sensitive to issues of race and treating people equitably," he added.

But it was when the presentation ended that the situation escalated, Khan wrote.

"I tried to leave the chamber but was confronted by several people who were in the aisle. On more than one occasion, I was shoulder-bumped and pushed," he wrote.

When he tried to move towards the exit immediately outside the chambers, Khan said he was surrounded by the crowd and called a "fat brown c**t" and a "brown b*****d."

He continued: "After being physically assaulted, called racist slurs and surrounded by an angry mob, I expressed my displeasure by using my middle finger toward an individual who had physically threatened me and called me racist slurs."

Khan said he was concerned his reaction risked distracted people from the issue of masking and vaccines, but said he could not apologize.

"When faced with the racist vitriol that Councilman Fitch has been privately and publicly stoking against me since my appointment, I cannot say I am sorry," he wrote.

Khan urged Days to investigate the matter to "prevent similar events from happening in the future, and ensure that a safe and orderly environment be created for any future testimony me or my staff are asked to provide to the Council."

In a statement to Newsweek, Page said an investigation into the allegations is underway. "These actions against Dr. Khan are troubling and under investigation," he said. "The behavior he has detailed is shameful and cannot be tolerated."

Days told the Post-Dispatch the alleged behavior outlined by Khan was "unfortunate" and "should never be tolerated." Days have been contacted for additional comment.

In a statement to Newsweek, Khan said he did not expect a response to his letter. "My only purpose in writing that letter was to inform the chairperson and the public about the highly regrettable and unacceptable actions of some people in the crowd that evening and to request that order and decorum be strictly maintained in any meetings where public officials such as myself are called to explain policy rationale or present data/information about public health issues," he said.

Update 7/29/21, 10.40 a.m. This article has been updated with a statement from McCloskey.

Update 8/2/21, 4 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with a statement from Khan.

Grocery store enforcing masks
People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images