Faisal Khan, acting director of the Saint Louis County Department of Public Health, said he faced “racist, xenophobic, and threatening behavior” after a County Council meeting on the mask mandate on Tuesday.
Khan sent a letter to County Council Chairwoman Rita Days detailing the harassment he says he encountered after addressing the council.
He had been invited by the council to explain the public health rationale behind the county’s recent public health order that requires face coverings or masks, Kahn told CNN Thursday.
The city and county of St. Louis announced a mask mandate last week that requires those ages 5 and older to wear masks in indoor public spaces and on public transportation following an increase in cases of Covid-19, CNN previously reported.
Missouri’s attorney general filed a lawsuit on the day the mandate went into effect and the St. Louis County Council voted to overturn the mask mandate after Khan’s presentation on Tuesday.
Despite the vote, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that the mask mandate remains in effect. The state’s attorney general has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Page, Khan and others from enforcing the mask mandate.
Khan, who says he has 25 years of experience in communicable disease control, told CNN he wrote the letter because he “was shaken up and completely distraught” over the way the meeting was conducted and the way he was “subjected to taunts and racist abuse and threats.”
He said he wanted to let the council members know what happened, how he was treated and how an invaluable opportunity for the branches of government to learn about the Delta variant had been “squandered.”
In the letter, Khan said his presentation “began with a dog-whistle question from Councilman Tim Fitch, who said he wanted to emphasize for the assembled crowd that I was not from this country.”
“Dr. Khan, we certainly have heard of your background before but most here have not. Can you tell us why you are called Doctor Khan? Are you a physician in the United States?” Fitch asked.
Khan responded by saying he was an epidemiologist and not licensed to practice clinical medicine in the US.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fitch described the question as “an attempt to familiarize the audience with Khan’s credentials.” CNN has reached out to Fitch but has not yet heard back.
Khan said other members of the audience berated and tried to distract him during his presentation. He says he also heard people “mocking his accent” and impersonating the character of Apu from the animated series, “The Simpsons.”
In addition to Fitch, CNN has reached out to the county council members named in Khan’s letter and hasn’t received a response.
After his presentation, Khan said he tried to leave the chamber but was confronted by several people in the aisle who “shoulder-bumped and pushed” him. Once he got outside of the chamber room, the crowd called him a “‘fat brown c*nt’ and a ‘brown bastard,”’ the letter states.
In the letter, Khan said he responded to the person who “physically threatened” him and used racial slurs, by using his middle finger in an obscene gesture and says, “political operatives” and Fitch have tried to use his reaction to the abuse against him.
Fitch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “‘The entire letter is another attempt at deflection and diversion by Sam Page (the St. Louis County Executive). Dr. Khan knew he was in trouble for (giving the middle finger) and this was an opportunity to put that on someone else.'”
In an interview with CNN, Khan said, “While I regret the momentary loss of composure, it was at the end of a long, exhausting evening in which I had been subjected to ridicule, humiliation and all sorts of abuse, not the least of which was somebody getting in my face and yelling obscenities as I left … And so, I let my composure slip, as a human being who’s flawed, and I regretted that afterwards, but I certainly don’t apologize for it because nobody, nobody, public official or not, should ever have to put up with that sort of nonsense no matter what the circumstances.”
Khan ended the letter by saying he was willing to continue to brief the Council about Covid-19 in the future but asked that the previous matter be investigated, and similar events be prevented for his and his staff’s safety.
When reached earlier in the day via social media by CNN, Khan said, “I remain extremely worried about what the Delta variant of the virus will do (to)(sic) our fellow St. Louis residents in the weeks and months ahead. I am disappointed that a simple public health measure such as the use of a mask have become unnecessarily politicized.”
Page, who also hired Khan, said in a statement to CNN, “These actions against Dr. Khan are troubling and under investigation. The behavior he has detailed is shameful and cannot be tolerated.”
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