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Retailers around the state report threats, verbal confrontations over mask requirement

One customer threw a cantaloupe bowl at a worker

Shoppers head out from Jewel Osco after shopping on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Crystal Lake. Many businesses are requiring face masks be worn by employees and customers, and some businesses are hiring during the global pandemic.
Shoppers head out from Jewel Osco after shopping on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Crystal Lake. Many businesses are requiring face masks be worn by employees and customers, and some businesses are hiring during the global pandemic.

Retailers across Illinois are reporting threats, assault and verbal confrontations from customers who don’t want to wear masks inside businesses.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association recently shared members' comments regarding their experience with Gov. JB Pritzker's extended stay-at-home order, which mandates that all residents older than 2 years of age must wear a mask or face covering when in public spaces where they are unable to maintain a safe distance of six feet from those around them.

Some of those incidents reportedly involved a customer throwing a cantaloupe bowl at an associate, customers verbally assaulting one another as well as employees, and one customer threatening to go to his car to get a gun after an associate asked him to wear a mask before entering the business.

Saturday morning, a day after the extended order went into effect, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association was inundated with issues retailers reported when it came to customers wearing masks, said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the IRMA. 

The organization emailed its membership and asked that members send the basics of instances occurring.

“The frustration level rose quickly,” Karr said.

He noted the organization supports the mask requirement, but members are frustrated about the confusion surrounding how the state is enforcing it.

He said the state is going back and forth, saying local law enforcement should enforce the mandate and saying retailers should enforce the mask requirement.

But the retailers have no ability to enforce the law, he said. 

Commander Sarah Raymond with the Peru Police Department told Shaw Media that when it comes to enforcing the mask mandate, it’s up to the retailers to enforce it, but if there’s a disturbance that happens, police will respond and handle the incident.

She said Peru Police has only had one disturbance call in early May about someone not wanting to wear a mask.

"Our officers are seeing almost 100% compliance everywhere they go," she said.

The IRMA benefits Illinois retailing through effective management with retailers, the general public, policy makers and the media regarding the impact legislative and regulatory proposals will have on the success of retail operations.

The IRMA provided the following list of mask issues that retailers sent to the association:

DeKalb – Consumer wearing hunting knife refuses to wear mask

Have had 3 or 4 customer issues about asking them to wear a mask. One was somewhat disturbing. Very large man about 6-foot-6 with what I believe was a hunting knife told me that he would not wear a mask and we can't legally ask him to put one on and he was going to shop in the store and asked how I was going to enforce it.

DeKalb—Employee is assaulted

ASD politely reminded a male customer who was not wearing face protection of the Governor’s facial covering order. The male customer became agitated as customers near the area made inappropriate comments towards the male customer. The male customer then caused a disturbance in the store, stating that he is a disabled veteran and that he does not need to follow the Governor’s order. An associate who overheard the male customer yelling walked into the aisle where the male customer was standing, the male customer then took the glasses off of the face of our associate and threw them to the floor, knocked over a display and threw a cantaloupe bowl in the direction of another associate. The male customer then exited the store.

Peoria – Law enforcement officer in uniform refuses to wear mask

A police officer visited the grocery store without a mask. Several customers and the store manager challenged him on it. The officer told them he was making a political protest. The manager asked him to leave which he ultimately did but how do you get enforcement help when the police aren’t abiding?

Romeoville #1—Customer threatened to get a gun

A customer was asked to wear a mask/face covering by an AP associate who was monitoring the door and the customer became irate. The customer then threatened to go to his car and get his gun and shoot the associate.

Romeoville #2—Mayor advised law enforcement to arrest retail workers not enforcing mask requirement

The Romeoville Mayor sent a police officer to let me know that going forward, we must refuse any individuals at the front doors that are not wearing a mask. If not, the store manager in charge will be arrested for reckless endangerment. He did not have any documentation of the sudden change. (Romeoville Assistant Village Manager Dawn Caldwell sent a statement to Shaw Media that said “Contrary to information released by the IRMA, the mayor nor any elected official were involved in this matter.")

Champaign—Law enforcement refuses to respond to mask calls.

Carbondale—Employees threatened

I want to share with you the issues we are having at our Carbondale store around the face covering mandate. This is putting our Teammates and Customers in harm's way. We have already had several issues at this location as we attempt to enforce this. The issues arise not only between Customers and our Teammates but also between Customers. The public is on edge and even a passive approach has sent several Customer's over the edge to a point they are shouting at our Teammates. Our Teammates fear for their safety. When someone refuses to comply, we have had complying Customer's verbally attack the non-compliance Customer. We should not be the police or enforcers. My fear is that these instances will escalate into a situation where someone will get hurt. 

Bloomington, Champaign, Urbana, Springfield, Pekin and Peoria— No enforcement.

No enforcement will take place without stores placing a no trespass order on a customer. 

Woodstock—Customers verbally abused employees

Through the first day and a half we have had approximately 10 customers who were verbally confrontational. I have not heard of or seen any police presence regarding the matter either. 

Carbondale - Consumer fights

We just had two customers getting into an altercation at my self-checkouts over why one guy had to wear a mask and the other did not. The younger gentleman walked up to the self-checkout attendant and asked her why the older gentleman was in the store without a mask. The older gentleman turned around from his self-checkout and said I will tell you why. The younger man said get out of my face and then it got heated. In the end the younger gentleman wearing a mask threw his items at the self-checkout attendant.

Fairview Heights - Miscellaneous incidents

Following up on mask incident(s) this morning. We have had a number of customers not wearing face coverings, and when our greeter mentions the governor's mandate they have been cussed, flipped the bird and insulted. The most egregious was a man who got out his phone and started taking pictures and video of our greeter, then confronted our exit person. I went out to change our sidewalk sign which had just arrived, and he was still outside taking video and accused us of denying him food. 

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