A proclamation went into effect in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Friday requiring that patrons of newly reopened stores and restaurants don masks while inside. Just hours later, Mayor Will Joyce was forced to revise the order amid a ferocious backlash.
“In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse,” said City Manager Norman McNickle in a statement. “In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Calling the protesters “self-absorbed,” McNickle added that they claimed the mask mandate was “unconstitutional.” Citing a recent decision from federal court in Oklahoma’s western district, along with businesses’ common practice of enforcing “no shirt, no shoes, no service,” McNickle dismissed that argument.
Still, Joyce quickly revised his proclamation, making mask-wearing recommended rather than required for patrons. Employees in most public-facing industries will still be required to wear them. The amendment is part of the city of 50,000’s comprehensive state of emergency, newly extended through May 31.
“I am not the kind of person who backs down from bullies, but I also will not send someone else to fight the battle for me,” he wrote on Twitter (where, notably, he is wearing a face mask in his picture). “I issued a revised order this afternoon to correct this problem, and we will continue to reevaluate our approach to face coverings.”
While he said that the order was “clearly not” unconstitutional and that those who abused the employees should be ashamed, he also apologized to those who were subjected to the abuse. “It wasn’t the right approach for Stillwater,” he said.
The protesters in Stillwater were not the only ones who found mask requirements too large of an imposition to tolerate.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) reversed his announcement that masks must be worn in stores a day after he made it on April 27.
“It became clear to me that that was just a bridge too far,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”
He added that getting “hung up” on mandatory mask rules would just hurt his ability to communicate with Ohioans. He, like Joyce, has downgraded the requirement to just employees having to wear the masks.
In at least one case, resistance to wearing a mask may have actually culminated in physical violence and death.
In Flint, Michigan, per local reports, police are investigating claims that a security guard at Dollar General was shot and killed over a dispute with a patron about wearing a mask.
The state police are handling the investigation, Flint’s communication director Marjory Raymer told TPM. The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A GoFundMe page set up for the victim cites the mask dispute as the cause of the violence.
“Duper was a hard working, father and husband who lost his life while doing his job securing the place of business and asking all customers to wear a mask for our own safety as well as others. He leaves behind 8 amazing kids, a super loving wife, & his wonderful mother,” it said.
Per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, Michiganders are required to wear face coverings in public, enclosed spaces, though those not wearing masks will not be fined. Businesses are permitted to turn away maskless customers.