STILLWATER, Okla. (CN) — After businesses reported verbal and physical threats from customers, including one involving a firearm, an Oklahoma mayor hastily retracted an order late Friday requiring residents to wear face coverings.
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce made face coverings optional after the threats, according to the amended emergency proclamation. He explained that he originally required businesses to tell their customers to wear the face coverings on their premises to avoid making “a blanket rule for everyone.” He now says the move “was not the right approach for” his city.
“I knew there would be some objections, but I did not expect physical confrontations with employees and threatening phone calls to city hall,” Joyce tweeted. “I hate that our businesses and their employees had to deal with abuse today, and I apologize for putting them in that position.”
City Manager Norman McNickle said the threats happened within “three short hours” of the original order being in effect, as the city began reopening certain stores and restaurants as shelter-in-place orders for Covid-19 began to expire across the state.
“Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask,” McNickle said in a statement. “No law or court supports this view. In fact, a recent Federal lawsuit against [the city of] Guthrie’s face covering order was fully dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.”
McNickle said it is “further distressing” that people are putting others at risk exercising their perceived rights.
“It is further well settled that a business is private property to which people do not have unfettered right of entry,” he said. “Just as a business has the right to enforce ‘No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service,’ the business can require a face covering as a condition to entry.”
Mayor Joyce said that he is “not the kind of person who backs down from bullies” but refused to send businesses to “fight the battle for me.”
“To the people who resort to threats and intimidation when asked to take a simple step to protect your community: shame on you,” he tweeted. “Our freedom as Americans comes with responsibilities, too.”
Stillwater is approximately 70 miles north of Oklahoma City. It is the home of Oklahoma State University.
Oklahoma has tallied 3,748 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 230 deaths, according to the state’s Department of Health.