Last month, city bus driver Richard Gehl was shown on a Facebook video berating passengers who were, in his opinion, ignoring pleas from the state and city to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.
The passengers are unseen in the video, but it was obvious Gehl was speaking directly to them. One passenger tells Gehl: “You’re abusing us.”
Gehl’s response: “You’re abusing me by putting me at risk for no legitimate reason at all. There you go. There’s where the abuse is. Can you imagine if you actually had (coronavirus), don’t know it and gave it to me and I freaking die? It’s all over TV: Stay home! When you’re putting me at risk, I will get boisterous about it. You absolutely betcha.”
For two weeks, we’ve been undecided. Did Gehl inappropriately berate passengers for riding a city bus that was clearly for public use and open for business? Or should Gehl be forgiven for protecting himself and saying what so many of us are thinking?
We tend to lean toward the latter, but we also understand as his supervisors are apparently still deciding what to do about it. Gehl has been on leave in the days since the incident.
In the two weeks since Gehl’s outburst, a national story about another bus driver brings the local incident into perspective.
In Detroit, Mich., bus driver Jason Hargrove took to social media to vent after a passenger on his bus coughed numerous times without covering her mouth. He complained of the disrespect shown to those who still are required to work among the public.
Among his comments: “We’re out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families. But for you to get on the bus, and stand on the bus, and cough several times without covering up your mouth, and you know that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don’t care.”
Ten days after posting that video, Hargove died of coronavirus complications.
People, stay home. Only leave the house for required work, to resupply at a grocery or retail store or to pick up a meal at a restaurant.
As this editorial is written from a desk at home while most Grand Forks Herald employees shelter in place, bus drivers, grocery store employees, restaurant employees, health care professionals and the like still must go to work if they want to collect a paycheck. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid.
The least we can do is respect that, and try to protect them as much as we can. We do that by staying home, by practicing the best possible hygiene and -- if the mood strikes -- by thanking them for their work.
Gehl should not raise his voice to city bus passengers. But considering the potential deadly effects that can come when we don’t distance ourselves from others, we can hardly blame him.
Hopefully, he keeps his job.