A US-based civil rights group tells TRT World that the victim is a hero providing an essential service during this pandemic, and yet he was disrespected, attacked and humiliated as if he were a criminal.
Makram Megdiche, a Tunisian-American pharmacy manager, was tasered and handcuffed by the store security guard earlier this month for wearing a protective mask. Now, Muslim civil rights advocacy organisation CAIR is demanding the Howard County Police Department investigate the incident, highlighting it as yet more evidence of prevailing discriminatory behaviour against the people of colour.
The incident took place in early April when the discourse around wearing a mask was changing by the hour and American public was confused, battling against the mixed messages from the federal government. In a White House briefing room, President Donald Trump said on April 3 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was urging all Americans to wear a mask, but then repeatedly said the recommendation was voluntary. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. But some people may want to do it, and that’s OK. It may be good. Probably will — they’re making a recommendation. It’s only a recommendation, it’s voluntary.”
And according to CDC’s initial guidelines, (up until April 3) outside healthcare settings, face masks should only be worn by people who are ill or who are caring for someone who is sick (when the person who is unwell can’t wear a mask).
Speaking to TRT World, CAIR Director of Maryland Outreach Zainab Chaudry says: “The incident occurred at the time that the media was hinting that CDC was planning to issue guidance for everyone to wear a facemask. Regardless of CDC guidance, this victim is a health care provider who risks coming in contact with infected patients through his line of work. He was wearing the mask to protect others as much as to protect himself.”
Chaudry says many others began wearing full-face coverings before it became an official government mandate. “Individuals have never been forbidden from wearing them, and we maintain that they have the right to protect themselves and their loved ones,“ he says.
When Megdiche entered the store on April 4, a security guard approached him, violating his personal space, and asked him to remove his face covering. The shopper removed the face covering to show the guard who he was, a regular customer that’s known to the store, then replaced the mask. Megdiche also requested the guard to move back so they could follow social distancing guidelines, CAIR says.
The security guard allegedly insisted Megdiche remove the face covering or he would be denied the right to shop. Despite Megdiche asserting his right to protect himself proceeded with his shopping, the security guard approached him again at the checkout counter when Megdiche wanted to pay for his items. The security guard at L.A. Mart used a stun gun on Megdiche as he left his groceries to step away and leave.
Chaudry says that the security guard had no legitimate basis for using the taser gun on the victim. “The victim was a regular customer, and had removed the face covering to identify himself to the guard before putting it back on. The guard should have known he posed no threat,” he says.
After Megdiche fell on the ground in shock and pain, the security guard allegedly pinned him to the ground, restrained his wrists and reportedly forcibly escorted him in front of staff and other customers to an enclosed office space. Police were called, along with paramedics, who evaluated him and cleared him to be released.
Chaudry, earlier said in a statement: “This individual is a hero providing an essential service during this pandemic, yet he was disrespected, attacked and humiliated as if he were a criminal. This ordeal has traumatised him and has had a profound effect on his wife and children.”
“This incident is carved in my mind,” said Megdiche. “[I am] still waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares screaming and crying. My family noticed the change in my behaviour also. My daughter and my son are still crying and my daughter was crying in my arms yesterday saying, ‘I want my Dad back’. “
The victim’s attorney is pursuing all legal options. “Our client was violently attacked for simply trying to protect himself and the public from the coronavirus,” said Attorney David Muncy of Plaxen and Adler Law Firm, who is providing legal representation.
With the severity of the situation becoming more apparent in the United States with almost 793,000 cases and more than 42,500 deaths, people of colour are left with the dilemma of choosing which one is more dangerous; virus or racism. Chaudry says: “Unfortunately, people of colour from communities that are disproportionately impacted by racism are more likely to be reluctant to wear a face mask out of concerns about being targeted by profiling and harassment. As one person put it: ‘Corona might not kill us, but racism will’. “
CAIR noted reports of other people of colour who have been harassed and profiled while wearing protective face coverings since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and emphasised the need to educate the public on resisting racist, discriminatory stereotyping that discourages these communities from taking measures to protect themselves from the deadly virus.
[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]