The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two Trader Joe’s customers were asked to put on masks. They attacked employees instead, police said.

As an increasing number of states and big-box stores require people to cover their faces, incidents such as the one at a Trader Joe's in Manhattan have been reported more frequently. (NewsBase/AP)

The two men were not wearing face masks when they entered a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan earlier this month. But when some of the grocery store employees asked the pair to cover their faces, they refused — and went on a rampage instead, police said.

One of them ripped a face mask off one of the workers, who are typically known for their colorful Hawaiian shirt uniforms, according to the New York Police Department. The men, John Carrero and Alejandro Escobar, both 34, pulled one employee’s hair and threw baskets at others. Using a wooden paddle, typically meant to help direct the flow of traffic at cash registers, they began pummeling another employee over the head, police told NBC News.

That worker started bleeding badly and was taken to a hospital, one Trader Joe’s employee on the scene told Vice News.

Carrero and Escobar were arrested shortly thereafter and charged with disorderly conduct, harassment and criminal trespassing, police told NBC. Carrero was also charged with second-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon, and Escobar was charged with menacing.

The Washington Post was unable to reach an attorney representing them.

Neither Trader Joe’s nor the New York Police Department immediately responded to a request for comment from The Post. In an interview with NBC, Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for the grocery store chain, said that eight store employees “suffered some sort of injury” but that all had recovered and were back at work.

Friend-Daniel said that Trader Joe’s is cooperating with a police investigation and that the chain does not think the altercation was prompted by employees’ requests for the men to cover their faces.

“We feel there was a different motivation behind it, such as wanting to start some trouble,” she said.

Yet if the police account of the incident is true, the altercation in the Murray Hill neighborhood underscores how the ongoing culture war over face coverings has increasingly devolved into actual incidents of violence. A minority of Americans who refuse to align themselves with science are also throwing punches and drawing weapons in sometimes deadly signs of disagreement.

Two D.C.-area restaurant employees were assaulted after enforcing mask rules. Others worry they will be next.

In May, a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Mich., was shot and killed after trying to enforce a face-mask requirement. Days later, a woman in Oklahoma City who had insisted on entering a McDonald’s, which had been partly closed for social distancing, returned with a handgun, firing several rounds and injuring a handful of employees.

But as an increasing number of states and big-box stores require people to cover their faces, such incidents have been reported more frequently — and on occasion, have become more violent.

Within the past week, a San Francisco bus driver was attacked with a bat after asking some teenagers to cover their faces. A hostess at a Michigan restaurant met a similar fate for reminding a customer to do the same. Over the weekend, a man turned away from a Dallas sports bar at capacity returned with a gun, injuring at least four people as he sprayed bullets at the establishment.

Some incidents have had the roles reversed, too. In San Diego, a woman allegedly pepper-sprayed a couple at a dog park last week because they had their faces exposed.

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The altercation at the Manhattan Trader Joe’s reportedly began when Carrero and Escobar entered the store at 8:50 p.m. on July 14, just minutes before closing. One of them told a grocery store employee that face masks would no longer be required following the presidential election in November, Vice reported.

Seven workers and three managers were attacked, according to the news site. At one point, Escobar said he would return with a firearm, setting off a feeling of “fear and alarm to employees and customers inside of the store,” police told NBC.

Once the two men had left the store, one of them grabbed a chair and tried to bash in one of the windows to get back inside. Police arrested them minutes later.

Friend-Daniel, the Trader Joe’s spokesperson, told NBC that a security guard had since been hired to protect customers and employees. In addition, all employees at the Murray Hill store were offered a temporary transfer to another location or paid time off.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will probably challenge a key line of treatment for people with compromised immune systems — the drugs known as monoclonal antibodies.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

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