Bodega workers in New York City say mask law puts their safety in jeopardy

TREMONT, Bronx (WABC) -- Some bodega workers fear for their lives and want officials to do more to protect them amid violent outbursts from customers who do not want to wear masks in their stores.

A growing number of bodega owners are speaking out after multiple instances of people breaking the law by not wearing face coverings. They say they are putting themselves at risk trying to obey a law that is not their responsibility.

In the Bronx, a customer was caught on video smacking a worker in the face after he was told to put on his mask.

"I didn't expect to be smacked in the face, this was shocking to me, I tried to do what the governor asked us," clerk Aneuri Castillo said in a statement. "I told him it was the law, I'm scared, maybe he'll come back and shoot me. It's so hard coming to work not knowing how the day will go. I have a family and they need me, I don't want to die in the bodega."

Moments later in the same store, a man who also wasn't wearing a mask heard what happened and went after another worker.

"As I was stacking the shelves another man came in," the other clerk, Javier Franco, said in a statement. "I asked him to put on a mask and he started fighting with me. The Mask Law is going to get someone killed, we are doing our best trying to obey the law so we don't lose our liquor license but it seems we could lose our life instead."

ALSO READ | NYPD beefing up patrols to combat gun violence over Labor Day Weekend

When all else failed, that worker threw bottles at his attacker.

The owner of another bodega said a woman lost it and started slashing bottles and other items - causing more than $7,000 in damage - after she was also told to put on a mask.

Fernando Mateo with United Bodegas of America pointed out on Sunday that authorities are watching.
"If they walk into your bodega and someone is in there without a mask, they will take your liquor license away, we fear losing our businesses over a law we have no control over," Mateo said.

That same tension is spilling out into the neighborhood.

Eyewitness News witnessed a man who was not wearing a mask aggressively make it crystal clear that he didn't want any media at the bodega and tried to unsuccessfully shut down the coverage.

"They don't respect their community, they take ownership of it and through violence believe they can conquer, with fear they believe they can conquer," Mateo said.

The workers were too afraid to go on camera and worry someone is going to get seriously hurt if the city and state do not step in and do more to protect them.

RELATED | Victim says he was attacked for wearing mask on subway
EMBED More News Videos

A 68-year-old security guard is recovering inside Kings County Hospital after being slashed in the face while riding the subway. He says it was all because of his mask - which he says the attacker refused to wear.

* More Bronx news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.