Racial Slurs Hurled at Pakistani-American Doctor in a Public Hearing in St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan, a Pakistani American, was subjected to racial abuse at a St. Louis County Council meeting, according to multiple media reports. He apparently got caught up in the middle of a fierce, angry debate on new mask mandates amid surging infections attributed to the Delta variant of the COVID19 virus that originated in India. The anti-mask crowd is particularly strong in Republican states that voted for former President Donald J. Trump.
|Dr. Faisal Khan|
Dr. Khan was subjected to racial slurs and physically assaulted after defending a new mask mandate to combat COVID-19. In response to the abuse, he raised his middle finger at a crowd gathered at a St. Louis County Council meeting, according to a Wednesday letter obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “After being physically assaulted, called racial slurs and surrounded by an angry mob, I expressed my displeasure by using my middle finger toward an individual who had physically threatened me and called me racist slurs,” Khan wrote to Councilwoman Rita Heard Days who led the meeting.
“You asked us to stay home,” Rita Heard Days, the council chairwoman, told the director of the county’s public health department before voting to lift the mask mandate. “You asked us to put on masks. You asked us to stay six feet apart,” she said. “We have followed your orders, and yet we are still in a predicament. So something is not working.” In an apparent reference to the rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant in the United States, Dr. Faisal Khan told her that the virus has changed.While testifying, Dr. Khan said members of the crowd mocked his accent. As he left, Khan said he was shoulder-bumped, then surrounded by a crowd and called a racial slur. He also called out Councilman Tim Fitch for what Khan described as a xenophobic dog-whistle in asking Khan about his credentials. “Dr. Khan, we certainly have heard of your background before, but most here have not,” Fitch said during the meeting. “Can you tell us why you’re called Dr. Khan? Are you a physician in the United States?”
Dr. Faisal Khan is among thousands of Pakistani-American doctors who have been at the forefront of saving lives in the middle of the devastating COVID19 pandemic that has taken over half a million American lives so far. Among them is Dr. Syra Madad, Pakistani-American head of New York City’s Health and Hospitals System-wide Special Pathogens Program, who is featured in a 6-part Netflix documentary series "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak".Pakistani-American doctors are the 3rd largest among foreign-educated doctors in America. Among the notable names of Pakistani-American doctors engaged in the fight against Covid-19 are: Dr. Saud Anwar in Connecticut, Dr. Gul Zaidi in New York and Dr. Umair Shah in Texas. Their work has received positive media coverage in recent weeks.
Dr. Saud Anwar, a Connecticut pulmonologist and state senator, came up with a ventilator splitter to deal with the shortages of life-saving equipment. Dr. Gul Zaidi, an acute-care pulmonologist in Long Island, was featured in a CBS 60 Minutes segment on how the doctors are dealing with unprecedented demands to save lives. Dr. Umair Shah was interviewed about his work by ABC TV affiliate in Houston, Texas.
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The doctor believed he was doing the right thing after Jennifer Shuford, chief epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services, warned physicians not to waste the shots and said it was even acceptable to give leftover doses to ineligible people if the vaccines would otherwise expire.
But on Jan. 7, Harris County Public Health fired Gokal for doling out the shots. Officials within the county health department then shared false information with the local district attorney’s office, Gokal said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, spurring prosecutors to bring criminal charges against Gokal for allegedly stealing vaccine vials and giving shots to friends and family. That month, he was charged with theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that was ultimately dismissed.
Gokal is suing Harris County Public Health for wrongfully firing him, orchestrating a “misinformation campaign” aimed at stripping him of his medical license, and discriminating against the doctor based on his race and national origin. Harris County Public Health did not immediately return a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday.
The termination and subsequent efforts to pursue criminal charges against Gokal left him struggling to find a new job in public health, he said.
“If you Google my name, you’ll see ‘doctor theft,’ ‘doctor theft,’ so on and so forth,” Gokal told KTRK on Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, a human resources director allegedly told the doctor that he “did not ‘equitably’ distribute the vaccine and gave the vaccine to too many individuals with ‘Indian’ sounding names.” Gokal’s attorney told KTRK that the 10 individuals Gokal was able to reach before the vaccine expired “happen to be South Asian.” Gokal, who is from Pakistan, sought out at-risk patients “without race in mind,” according to the suit. Instead, it adds, he tried to ensure that the extra doses went to people who were particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.
The lawsuit said that Harris County Public Health did not properly investigate the allegations made against Gokal. The department “never interviewed Dr. Gokal, never took his statement, never asked for his side of the story, conducted no internal investigation of the matter, and never sought to get the facts straight,” the lawsuit states.