Enforcement of Mask Rules by U-Bahn Security Triggers Accusations of Racism

A routine intervention by Wiener Linien staff escalated into alleged use of excessive force; feelings run high while body-cam evidence may prove critical.

The Wiener Linien, operator of Vienna’s public transport system, has drawn allegations of racism following an incident on Saturday, October 17. Following a refusal to wear the required face mask at the subway station Westbahnhof, members of the company’s security staff pinned a 30-year-old passenger with Rwandan roots to the floor for several minutes. According to the Wiener Linien, the passenger repeatedly rejected security’s request to put on a mask nor, alternatively, would he leave the premises. 

Passers-by filmed the scene with their mobile phones, showing the man being pinned to the ground by three security guards.

The incident was first reported in the ORF-show Wien Heute on Sunday afternoon and soon became a heatedly discussed topic on social media. The debate focused on whether the security’s harsh measures were due to the defendant being a person of color, and whether a white person would have been treated equally harshly. One user was reminded of the attack on George Floyd.

Some also questioned the overall appropriateness of the reaction, initiated by the mere fact that the man wasn’t wearing a face mask.

The next day, Sunday, the general manager of the Wiener Linien, Alexandra Reinagl, defended the measures and rejected allegations of racism, while promising to analyze the footage from body and surveillance cameras. 

On Monday, the company published a statement on their social media accounts: According to the evaluated recordings, the man has been “politely asked 18 times to put on his mask or else leave the station.“ 

“When security staff tried to accompany the man out, he started to attack our staff.” This was when they called the police and pinned the man to the floor. Due to ongoing discussions, Christoph Heshmatpour, spokesman for the Wiener Linien, stressed once again that the security members acted within regulations. They are allowed to restrain passengers until police arrive, he told Der Standard on Monday. However, it should be a last resort.

Politician Mireille Ngosso (SPÖ) demanded consequences for the company. “Violence of this sort cannot be tolerated,” she wrote on her social media accounts, announcing that she is already in contact with the responsible city councilor.

The police are investigating the incident further. Both parties have pressed charges of bodily harm.

Verena Mayer
After falling in love with the city on an Interrail trip over 10 years ago, Verena is finally living in Vienna. She’s an editorial intern at Metropole and about to finish her master's degree in journalism at Deutsche Journalistenschule in Munich. Her favorite topics include food, culture & people.

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!

RECENT Articles

Coronavirus in Austria | Schools, Shops to Reopen Dec. 7; Restaurants, Culture o...

COVID-19 is shaping our daily lives. Here’s all you need to know about current measures, including where to get help, information and tips – updated regularly.

The Path to Ending Our Global Chaos Is Through the UN

A century after the founding of the League of Nations, international cooperation is still the answer to our “descent into cynicism, chaos and crisis”—in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Europe Is Bending the Curve, Cases Going Up in the US, Vaccines Ahead

Every Sunday, Metropole brings you a COVID-19 update from Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer, an Austrian virologist who works and teaches at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City.

5 Places to Stroll During Lockdown

Walls closing in? These places offer blessed respite and relaxation.

How Vienna Plans to Mass Test the Population for COVID-19

The city plans to test 1.2 million people from December 4-13 with rapid antigen tests. Here’s how it is supposed to work

Fucking, Austria, Wants Now to Be Called Fugging

The Upper Austrian village has had people steal their name sign and Pornhub giving them premium access due to its peculiar name. Now, the city council voted to change it once and for all.


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.