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Asian American bus driver attacked for enforcing masks, police say

Data shows a significant uptick in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic.
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A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) MUNI bus drives on Market Street in San Francisco on April 8, 2020.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A bus driver of Asian descent was physically assaulted in San Francisco last week while trying to enforce mask rules, police said.

The driver, who is employed by San Francisco’s Municipal Railway, or Muni, was struck by a wooden bat several times when attempting to escort three men off the bus after they refused to put on masks, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

Roger Marenco, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250, which represents Muni drivers, told NBC Asian America that the victim, who was also spat on, told him that the three men used racial slurs at some point.

Officer Robert Rueca, a department spokesman, said a preliminary investigation “did not indicate that race was a factor in this assault.” However, as further details arise, the focus of the investigation could shift, he said. No arrests have been made.

The three men reportedly boarded the bus without wearing masks. After they refused the driver’s orders to comply with the facial covering requirement, the driver pulled the bus over. An altercation ensued as the driver tried to escort the men off the bus and they eventually fled the scene “in an unknown direction,” Rueca said.

Marenco said that while this was a particularly severe confrontation, arguments prompted by the public transport’s face mask requirement have happened on a daily basis. He said he hopes the general public can step in to support drivers whenever possible, by documenting similar incidents on video or calling the authorities, or reminding other riders that boarding without a mask is a violation.

“If you see an operator trying to assist with facial coverings, could you please assist the operator so that he or she is not verbally assaulted or physically attacked because the operators are just trying to do their job and keep everyone in the bus as safe as possible,” he said.

Though this incident has not been classified as a hate crime, data shows that there has been a significant uptick in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. The reporting tool Stop AAPI Hate collected reports on more than 800 incidents of discrimination and harassment in three months during the pandemic in California alone.

In one incident in the early days of the pandemic, a 68-year-old Asian man was attacked while collecting cans in San Francisco in February. The altercation was caught on camera, showing bystanders piling on and hurling racist insults at the man.