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St. Louis County's acting health director said he was humiliated, attacked and called racist slurs during a council meeting on a newly reinstated mask mandate.
The director, Faisal Khan, was asked to present at Tuesday's public meeting as council members considered terminating a mandate that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page put in place to slow the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant.
Khan said in a phone interview on Thursday that the crowd was rowdy before the meeting even began because some of them had attended a political rally held outside the venue.
“The anger was already palpable,” he told NBC News. “By the time I was asked to come to the podium, the train had left the station and it was only going to go one way.”
Khan detailed what happened at the meeting in a letter to Council Chairwoman Rita Days, who was in attendance.
"My time before the Council 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," he wrote in the letter.
Khan, who said he became a U.S. citizen in 2013, wrote that Fitch should have known most of the people in the crowd were "from the 'MAGA' movement" because they kept chanting "Trump 2024."
Khan wrote in his letter that during the meeting Fitch's friend Mark McCloskey posted on social media that mask mandates are "un-American." Khan told Days that he believes Fitch and McCloskey's actions were an attempt to "stoke xenophobia against me."
As tensions escalated during the meeting, people in the crowd began to mock Khan's accent, he wrote in his letter. When he asked Days to intervene, she instead "lectured me," he said.
Khan said things turned hostile when he left the chamber.
"On more than one occasion, I was shoulder-bumped and pushed," he wrote in the letter. "As I approached the exit and immediately outside the chambers, I became surrounded by the crowd in close quarters, where members of the crowd yelled at me, calling me a 'fat brown c---' and a 'brown b------. 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."
He wrote that he was not sorry for giving the person the middle finger.
Khan told NBC News that he asked a security guard to walk with him toward the elevator because he was so frightened. He has since requested security detail, he said.
The meeting ended with the council voting 5-2 to strike down the mask order, according to NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis. However, Page said Wednesday that the mandate would stay in effect. A lawsuit was filed to challenge the order and is still pending, the news station reported.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials have been targeted and attacked. This week, prosecutors in Maryland announced a man had been arrested and charged in federal court with sending emails that threatened to harm and kill Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, and their families.
Khan said he believes they have been used as pawns for what some people have turned into a political battle.
“We’ve received so many threats, of all kinds, it is jarring. Public health is not the enemy. We don’t deserve to be targeted," he said. "We are in the midst of the worst public health crisis to hit the world in 100 years. We should not be worried about our own safety in deliberative sessions with legislative officials. That really is a sad reflection of society in the United States.”
Khan said he wrote his letter with the hopes that it "would jolt members of the Council into realizing that orchestrating hostile meetings and firing up the crowd doesn’t really serve any purpose." He has asked Days to investigate what happened at Tuesday's meeting and to enforce measures so it does not happen again.
Fitch and Days did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for McCloskey said Khan's claims were "demonstrably false."
"Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by Mr. Khan’s comments or his letter—this is the same type of response we always see from the liberal elite when you challenge their radical beliefs; if you disagree with someone, you’re a racist," read an emailed statement.
McCloskey went on to say that Khan giving the middle finger shows he should perhaps "exit the job of Public Health Director and let a doctor who is qualified and willing care for all St. Louis Countians."
McCloskey made headlines last year after he and his wife were caught on video brandishing weapons at members of the Black Lives Matter movement. The couple pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor charges as a part of a plea deal.