A small group of people believed to have been involved in a protest against COVID-19 measures in St. Paul Saturday later held an apparent maskless demonstration at the Midway Target.
St. Paul Police Department confirmed to BMTN that it received a complaint about the incident Saturday afternoon.
"We did receive a report about the incident and handled it the way we have since the executive orders began – we focused on sharing information, education and seeking voluntary compliance," spokesman Mike Ernster said.
There had been reports on scanner traffic accounts that a small group had splintered from a larger anti-COVID restriction demonstration at the Capitol, and were planning on entering the Midway Target without masks.
Among the shoppers who was at the store was Robynne Curlee, who spoke to two unmasked women who were carrying an American flag and at one point were being spoken to by Target employees.
"I asked why they weren't wearing masks; one of them said 'its a mandate, not a law, so we don't have to.' I said something along the lines of 'you are just showing how selfish you are and uncaring of your fellow Minnesotans'. She said, 'you are making me feel harassed'."
Curlee spoke with security staff at the store about the incident.
"I asked why they weren't asking unmasked people to leave the store. He told me that they have been directed not to approach unmasked shoppers, and they can't ask them to leave the store," she said.
Also at the store was Dag Demandt, a pastor at the Latvian Evangelican Lutheran Church in Powderhorn, Minneapolis, who saw several small groups of maskless people in the store, and estimates he saw as many as 20 people without masks in total.
He was surprised, he said, as he hasn't seen anyone in stores not wearing masks "in quite a while," noting the store is "in the heart of the city where pretty much everyone wears masks."
The first pair he saw without masks he didn't speak to, saying "maybe they forgot," but five minutes later he came across another maskless couple, and reminded them that they should be wearing masks.
"They replied 'it's a free country' and 'we are not hurting anybody,' and I said, 'I think you might be," he said.
"I proceeded on and then saw a group of 3-4 people, again without masks. I didn't say anything to them, but I did start to notice a lot of Target employees were starting to huddle together, while a shopper was talking to an employee."
"The store was quite tense," Demandt said, and a short time later he saw some of the maskless people being escorted from the store, while a security vehicle had turned up outside.
As they were being escorted out, Demandt said he heard one of the anti-maskers saying: "You are all brainwashed."
Later Saturday afternoon, security at Target were staggering entries to the Midway store, though it's not clear whether this was because of the earlier unmasked demonstration.
Target issued the following comment: "Yesterday, there were several different protests in St. Paul near our Midway store, which we monitored closely.
"We require guests to wear masks or face coverings in all of our stores, except for those with underlying medical conditions and young children. Our store team members also, wear masks when they come to work, which we provide for them. We provide disposable masks at our store entrances to guests who do not have one, remind guests to wear masks with overhead announcements and encourage guests to shop our various no-contact fulfillment options, including Drive Up, Target.com and Shipt, if they don’t want to wear masks."
Another person who was at the store at the time was Brian Quarstad, who shared his experience on Twitter.
While it is referred to as a "mask mandate," Gov. Tim Walz's executive order requiring face masks be worn inside public places is the law currently, unless you have one of a few exemptions. Breaking the law can result in petty misdemeanor citations and fines, while businesses can face stricter punishments for allowing widespread flaunting of the rules.
However, many companies advise their employees not to confront those not wearing masks due to the risk they will become angry or violent. The CDC's own guidance is that workers should not attempt to force anyone to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
Dueling protests at the governor's mansion
The incident at Target follows dueling protests that were held outside the governor's mansion.
A group of people protesting Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders and expressing support of the police were met by a counter-protest group comprising anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter.
St. Paul Police Department says that over the course of the protests, two were cited for disorderly conduct after an altercation on Summit Avenue – with no injuries.
There were also several tires slashed on Chatsworth Street, which is under investigation.
The Capitol and the governor's mansion have been the sites of multiple protests against COVID-19 measures, which have been stepped up again in recent weeks due to the huge surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths seen in November.