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At least seven Philadelphia police officers dragged a man off of a city bus on Friday, purportedly for not wearing a mask, in an incident that was captured on video and soon went viral.
The film was shared by the Philly Transit Riders Union, a community organization that advocates for the city's public transit users and wants the incident investigated.
While viewers aren't able to see the events that led up to the officers' arrival, the footage shows the man, who was not wearing a face mask, being dragged off the bus by several uniformed officers with police yanking at his limbs as he seems to resist being removed. He then tells them he wants their badge numbers.
According to the group, the man was pulled off the bus because he wasn't wearing a face mask.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) confirmed to BuzzFeed News that a man was removed from one of their buses. A spokesperson said the reasons why the man was removed are still under investigation.
In a statement, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson said that their presence was requested by a SEPTA bus driver around 8:25 a.m. in the Center City neighborhood.
"A SEPTA bus driver requested that a passenger leave the bus several times, and the passenger repeatedly refused," the spokesperson said. "PPD Officers arrived, and after being made aware of the driver’s request, also ordered the male to leave the bus several times. The male refused, at which point he was physically removed by the officers."
The spokesperson added that the man, whom they did not identify, was neither arrested nor cited for the incident.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance recommending that Americans wear face masks in public. Several cities and states have codified those recommendations into laws and regulations, and on Thursday, SEPTA began requiring masks for its riders.
But in response to BuzzFeed News's questions about the incident on Friday, the SEPTA spokesperson said that they will no longer enforce the rule that they had issued the prior day.
"SEPTA urges customers to wear facial coverings in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, consistent with new CDC guidelines and strong recommendations from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf," agency officials told BuzzFeed in an emailed statement. "While SEPTA urges riders to cover their faces, those who refuse will not be barred entry to the system."
In the same thread, the Philly Transit Riders Union shared video of what appeared to be a separate incident showing a SEPTA employee, who is not wearing a face mask himself, demanding that all riders without masks get off the bus. The man is heard telling a rider: "You have to get off the bus, man, or I'm going to have the cops take you off, one or other."
One of the riders appears to have fashioned a mask out of clothing, which the CDC has said works as an effective face cover, but he too was told to exit the bus.
Some online have been calling for Philadelphia to follow the lead of Detroit. After a bus driver there died from the coronavirus, officials started handing out thousands of free surgical masks for riders.
For its part, the Philly Transit Riders Union say they aren't against the face mask rule, but instead how it was being implemented.
"On Thursday, SEPTA 'urged' riders to wear face masks, despite masks still being listed as a prohibited item on other parts of SEPTA’s website," organization members said in a statement. "At some point later in the day, masks apparently became a 'condition for riding transit.'"
"Under normal conditions, conflicting messages from SEPTA management might only cost riders their time– missed birthdays, graduations, job interviews, doctor’s appointments," they added. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, an interaction with an armed police officer could cost a Philly transit rider their life."