ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Faisal Khan, the St. Louis County Health Director, said he was the target of "racist, xenophobic, and threatening behavior" during Tuesday night's county council meeting.
Khan was invited to speak at the council meeting regarding the latest COVID-19 data and research and to provide public health advice with the council in support of the county's mask mandate. In a letter to Council Chairwoman Rita Days, he said what he received from some council members and from the crowd was unlike anything he had experienced in his career.
"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," Khan said in the letter.
Khan said once his presentation began, republican Senate candidate Mark McCloskey and 2020 St. Louis County Executive candidate Paul Berry "consistently berated me and tried to distract me from my presentation."
In the letter, Khan said when he was surprised at the response he received when he tried to get help stopping them from the council.
"When I asked you to intervene to prevent Mr. McCloskey and Mr. Berry from interfering with my presentation, you lectured me - not them. Such demeaning treatment was surprising to me, as I had heard that you were sensitive to issues of race and treating people equitably," he said in the letter.
Once his presentation ended, Khan said he tried to exit the meeting but was faced with physical assaults and more taunting.
"On more than one occasion, I was shoulder-bumped and pushed. 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******.'"
Khan said he "expressed his displeasure by using his middle finger" toward someone who physically threatened him and called him racist slurs. Khan said he didn't want his actions to distract from his presentation, but he was not sorry for what he did.
"I have to say, however, that when faced with the racist vitriol that Councilman Fitch has been privately and publicly stoking against me since my appointment, I cannot say I am sorry," he said in the letter.
He finished his letter by asking the council to investigate the incidents and take steps to prevent them from happening in the future.
Chairwoman Days told 5 On Your Side she was surprised by Kahn's allegations. She said she did not see the alleged taunts during his presentation but said it was regrettable if it did happen.
"There is no place for racial intolerance," she said in an email. "Emotions were running high and things were said and done that were unnecessary."
During Tuesday night's council meeting, the council voted 5-2 to strike down the mask mandate after hours of public feedback. Most of the council members were taking issue with the fact that Page did not consult the council before putting the order in place.
After the vote Tuesday night, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page held a briefing on Wednesday where he said the mask mandate would stay in effect.
“I want to make it clear that a mask mandate remains in place in St. Louis County,” Page said. “There is currently a lawsuit challenging that mandate, until that’s resolved, masks are required in all indoor public spaces.”
Page went on to explain the reasons why the mask mandate was put in place to begin with. He mentioned the rise in COVID-19 cases and positivity rate in the county and said when they lifted health protocols in May, they thought more people would be vaccinated by now, echoing what Khan had presented at the meeting.
"The virus is simply spreading faster than we are getting people vaccinated,” Page said. “Masks slow down the spread while we continue our aggressive efforts to make the vaccine available for everyone."
Watch an extended interview with Dr. Khan in the YouTube video player below: