An attack on a San Francisco Uber driver over the weekend by a passenger who allegedly refused to wear a face mask has drawn outrage after video of the incident emerged on Tuesday.
The incident occurred on Sunday in the city after the driver, Subhakar Khadka, picked up three women. In a 43 second video clip shot by Khadka and posted to Twitter by local news outlets, an unmasked woman in the back of the car is seen coughing into Khadka’s face and screaming at him. Seconds later the woman snatches Khadka’s cell phone out of his hand and plucks his mask from his face. She and another passenger continue to yell at the driver and threaten to beat him up. Khadka claims he then got out of the car before being pepper sprayed by one of the passengers.
“You guys are animals to treat other human beings like this,” Khadka told the local news outlet KPIX.
Khadka says he was assaulted after trying to kick the group out of his car for refusing to follow Uber’s masking policy, which requires passengers to wear a face covering while riding. Khadka, who told KPIX he is originally from Nepal and has lived in the US for eight years, he also said he believed he was attacked because of his race and accent.
“If I was another complexion, I would have not gotten that treatment from them. The moment I opened my mouth to speak, they realized I’m among one of them, so it’s easy for them to intimidate me,” he told the outlet in an interview.
The incident comes as the San Francisco Bay Area has reckoned with attacks against elderly Asian residents, and as violence against Asian Americans has risen nationwide during the pandemic.
In a video posted to Instagram, the unmasked woman admitted that she was wrong for coughing on Khadka, but said that she was scared for her and her fellow passengers’ safety because Khadka allegedly tried to kick them out in an unfamiliar area and refused to wait until a new rideshare arrived.
Both Uber and Lyft tweeted that the rider has been permanently removed from their platforms.
The incident, alongside Uber’s compensation for Khadka – the company reportedly offered him just $20 to cover the cleaning fee, then later increased it to $120 – underscore the precarious nature of the gig economy and the limited protections offered to drivers, even as the pandemic makes their work more dangerous.
On Tuesday, Cyan Banister, early Uber investor, started a Gofundme fundraiser for Khadka so he can get the pepper spray residue out of his car and to make up for any lost wages.