Violence Escalating At Retail Stores Over Wearing Face Masks

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Above photo: Gary Towler puts on gloves to protect against coronavirus, before entering a grocery store Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Spring, Texas. AP Photo/David J. Phillip.

Workers at chains like Kroger, Costco, and Waffle House are on the front lines of an increasingly violent war between mask supporters and opponents.

  • Retail workers at chains, including Kroger, Waffle House, and Costco, are increasingly caught in the crossfire when it comes to enforcing store or state policies on personal protective equipment.
  • Some shoppers refuse to wear masks or face coverings for political reasons.
  • In some cases, confrontations between store workers and customers have resulted in deadly violence.

Kristine Holtham, a Kroger employee from Lansing, Michigan, recalled the last time she requested that a customer follow store rules and don a mask or face covering. The man refused to comply. Instead, he looked right at Holtham and said, “I don’t give a damn about your health.”

The Kroger meat department employee described the incident to reporters during a United Food and Commercial Workers International press call, adding that she and her Kroger colleagues have increasingly begun to run up against shoppers who simply refuse to wear masks or face coverings for ideological reasons.

“Kroger ended our ‘hero pay,’ but the crisis is not over,” Holtham said. “I face each day with anxiety and it gets worse when I see customers refuse to wear masks. I am a mother and my children need me to stay healthy.”Kroger recently decided to stop its $2-an-hour pay bump, instead of providing a $400 bonus.

Kroger did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

“The employees are downright afraid to ask people to put on masks,” Holtham told reporters on Wednesday. “Believe me, if you ask someone to put on a mask, it’s like asking them to throw their gun away.”

As stores, states, and local governments encourage people to wear masks in public, retail workers are bearing the brunt of the backlash. And with such clashes on the rise, there have been a number of violent incidents endangering the lives of workers.

Family Dollar security guard Calvin Munerlyn was shot and killed in early May at one of the retailer’s Michigan stores, after telling a shopper that she needed to wear a mask to shop at the store. The shopper’s father shot Munerlyn in the back of the head later that day.

Last week, a Waffle House customer opened fire, shooting an employee at the Aurora, Colorado location, after being turned away by a cook for not wearing a mask.

Neither Waffle House nor Family Dollar has policies on if customers have to wear masks. Workers were attempting to follow state orders in Colorado and Michigan that require or encourage people to wear masks when they leave their homes.

Workers are stuck in the middle of a culture war

Retail workers have also faced backlash over other safety policies that companies have rolled out to keep customers and employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

A woman in Oklahoma City shot three McDonald’s employees after she was told the fast-food chain had closed dining rooms due to the pandemic. And, earlier in May, a crowd outside a Costco in New Rochelle, New York, became aggressive when the warehouse opened 30 minutes later than expected, resulting in the police being called. 

“In 30-plus years of studying retail and crisis situations, we have never seen a situation of customers being so rude to hourly employees,” Larry Barton, a professor of crisis management and public safety at the University of Central Florida, told Business Insider’s, Mary Hanbury.

“It’s demoralizing and, as we saw with the shooting of the security guard, a sometimes deadly environment,” he added.

But UFCW International President Marc Perrone said that many retailers are failing to fully back or protect frontline employees on the issue of enforcing mask policies. He said that businesses “don’t want to drive off their customers” by taking stricter measures. Perrone advocates for retailers to hire security guards to enforce PPE policies.

“We have been pushing for that for quite some time now, and the reason being is that these workers are not management, the consumer does not look at them as management,” he said.

Masks have become a political symbol

Masks have become increasingly politicized during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say that everyone wearing a mask in a store is one of the best ways to make shopping safer for everyone involved, allowing businesses to reopen.

However, “anti-maskers” have said that policies requiring people to wear masks infringe on their freedom. Costco faced boycott threats when it became one of the first retailers to require all customers to wear masks in stores. Others rallied around Costco, voicing support for the new safety policy. 

A Whole Foods store worker told Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson that customers were shouting at them on a daily basis. The employee, and others in this article, were granted anonymity in order to speak frankly about the situation without fear of retribution.

“I have had people yell at me for not wearing a face mask, and had people yell at me for wearing a face mask,” the Whole Foods worker said.

A worker at the Gap told Business Insider that customers refusing to wear masks puts her and other employees in a stressful and uncomfortable position. Gap is encouraging shoppers to wear masks, but not requiring it — something some shoppers see as permission to go mask-free in the store.

“I just keep in mind that, [if I] get sick, I might be good to go, but my parents will not bounce back the same way,” the Gap employee said. “I don’t want to be a health hazard to them.”

See Also: 

A Family Dollar security guard was killed after he refused to let a customer into the store because they weren’t wearing a mask. Experts say acts of aggression are a terrifying trend on the rise in the retail sector.

  • iowapinko

    Yesterday my daughter was shopping at a Dollar Store, wearing a mask and following social-distancing guidelines. She is employed by the local school system where this is mandatory and has family members who are at elevated risk, so she takes these precautions seriously.

    As she waited at the checkout, two mask-less women came up to her and one of them deliberately coughed into her face. Not easily intimidated, Susan told the pair to “Back the fuck off!” and, fortunately, they did.

    But this was an aggressive assault, initiated without provocation, and it took a toll. Susan is still shaken.

    An unbounded rage festers in the american psyche. All of us are products of a culture enmeshed in violence, founded on genocide and based on exploitation. We fear anyone or anything characterized as ‘the other’. Many of us are so thoroughly brainwashed and conditioned that we’re unable to discern a real threat as opposed to scapegoats such as immigrants or mask-wearers.

    And then, in contrast, there are the masses of people like the audiences at Bernie Sanders’ rallies, who, when asked if willing to fight for the basic human rights of others in their communities as if they were fighting for themselves, stood up one by one to answer in the affirmative.

    We stand at a pivotal point in our history. It feels as though we are contained within a tinder box, with a surplus of matches all around.

    Students of history recognize dangerous indicators that fascism has a foot in the door. But alternatively, more and more are actively seeking liberation from the oppressive economic system of capitalism that, increasingly, threatens both people and planet.

    The times they are a’changin. This is no time to withdraw of concede defeat. The dangers are great. As is the potential to move forward.

  • 0040

    Your daughter is of course a fledgling fascist self righteously embracing her inner authoritarian impulses at her parents urging it appears. An ugly story that is probably untrue. Fascism’s success is based on calling those who protest against authoritarianism on little or no evidence fascists and a real danger to the status quo. The vast majority of us are not sick and herd immunity to this seasonal flu has now kicked in, but the panic-demic is still being promoted ? I recently watched a fat old man masked and gloved buy a carton of cigarettes at the supermarket and laughed out loud as he sidled around me at a safe distance of course..

  • 0040

    The violence is almost always initiated by the masked and gloved self righteous supporters of their corporate masters and government enforcers , who feel they have been enabled to hate those who resist their nonsensical slavishness.

  • NightriderXP1

    What your daughter experienced was assault and battery. If the police had responded, I’m sure the aggressors would have ended up in jail and getting prepared to pay significant lawyer and court costs because of their stupidity. The fact that they got away with it with your daughter means that they’ll continue to do it to others until someone makes them stop. Your daughter probably wasn’t their first victim either. There’s a chance that they’re infected, so they’re actions could be considered attempted murder…

    It’s shocking that there are so many in the US just like your daughter’s attackers and the idiot who responded below. They’re publicly wearing their hate as a badge of honor. We live in a pretty sick society, probably one that’s on the path to failure…

  • Arakiba

    No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service. These places need armed security guards.

  • Nicarag

    Alot of nurses and Doctors have tragedy died as a result of this virus. Masks, gloves etc, will not protect you!
    There is no scientific basis for people using masks. Other than protecting others from your intlfevtions. And if you have an infection you should be at home or in the hospital, not walking the streets.

  • Awful, IP.

  • 0040

    It works both ways ! As the Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 began 2 months ago I watched a gloved and masked old biddy try to stab a street person who was oblivious to the emerging new normal, with her umbrella in the local mega store. in west coast major population centers have huge populations of Asian turbo capitalists who have been routinely wearing face covers for decades, not to be confused with growing numbers of Islamic fundamentalists who insist their women do the same. The face mask is the badge of hate/repression

  • 0040

    Most large retail businesses already do ? The media will be loathe to report on and or spin the resulting shootings that are resulting. “Interventionism” by American elites both domestically or internationally always involves violence .” We had to destroy the village in order to save it. “

  • Nylene13

    The President of the United States refuses to wear a mask.

  • iowapinko

    I appreciate your wise counsel, Nr. It was a criminal act. The overt cruelty presenting within our communities these days is shocking. I can’t get used to it and I don’t want to.

    “We live in a pretty sick society, probably one that’s on the path to failure…”

    Yes, well said. And, I think most of us sense the truth of this, even if not always consciously. U$ society is on a steep trajectory downward. The scene of this crime, a ‘Dollar Store, filled with plastic junk not made by those who purchase it, is symbolic of the dire circumstances we are attempting to function within.

  • NightriderXP1

    Every empire has imploded from the inside out. The US will be no exception. What we’re witnessing are the signs of a dying nation. The Soviet Union used to state that the US would be defeated without it’s enemies firing a single shot. We’re seeing that prediction become a reality. I really don’t see any solution since “both” sides hate the other. It’s not that they disagree. It’s real deep hate that’s only going to grow worse. Hence, we now have a POTUS who is stirring the pot and his rabid cult following is willing to fall on the sword for him. They will murder for him. The courts will become overwhelmed and will eventually give up. Many in law enforcement are part of Trump’s cult so they’ll turn a blind eye as the country burns all around them…

  • NightriderXP1

    You’re really far gone. This didn’t happen over night. You’ve obviously been embracing conspiracy theories for a very long time, long before Trump stepped into office. That was a personal choice that you made, to believe in and embrace the craziest nonsense anyone could think up. I wouldn’t be shocked if you believe stories published by The Onion are true. Let me guess, you watched Glenn Beck religiously. You believe that Alex Jones is a credible “news source“. You believe in chemtrails and believe that Obama was born in Kenya. For all I know, you’re a flat earther. And now in your upside down alternate reality, the aggressor is now the victim. You live in a pretty strange place in your mind right now…

    Based on your abrasive attitude, you’ll likely have to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic the hard way. Most don’t but you’re clearly one who has to suffer to learn. Perhaps your views on wearing face masks will evolve after you spend a few months in a hospital gasping for air…

  • “And now in your upside down alternate reality, the aggressor is now the victim.”

    Strange times indeed!

  • Collectivist

    “You’ve obviously been embracing conspiracy theories for a very long time, long before Trump stepped into office”

    It’s been his thing since I’ve seen his posts over the last 5 years or so, NR.

    That ‘s why he’s a gravedigger regular.

    He’s also a card-carrying member of the cynically insane.

    “Nothing changes. Struggle is worthless. Prepare for doomsday”

  • NightriderXP1

    Wow, and it only took me a few minutes to see what (s)he’s been like for at least the past 5 years. They’re too easy to spot…

  • Collectivist

    Actually I thought you were referring to the Canadian couple.

    Still much of it still applies.

  • NightriderXP1

    I thought you were referring to double aught forty. Gary and his sidekick were easy to read too. I witnessed early on that he talked out of both sides of his mouth…

  • NightriderXP1

    The Canadian duo were easy to figure out. That’s why I called him out last year. I knew that he would eventually be stabbing his friends in the back and embracing the dark side. They’ll probably warm up to him long enough for him to stab them in the back too. It’s easy to give people the benefit of the doubt when they’re honest and sincere. When you cross paths with people who will argue any side of an argument at the drop of a hat, then you’ve discovered someone who doesn’t believe in anything. You’re wasting your energy if you ever consider them an ally. They’ll stab you in the back while you’re sleeping…

  • Thom Rip

    Hey cowboy, good ridin ( I mean writin) . Keep it up,it’s helping and truth needs it now more than ever.