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November 8, 1999
Fear, Anger Take A Back Seat in New York
J M Shenoy in New York
If corporations and government agencies can be sued for racial discrimination, the owners and drivers of taxies should also be sued, several African American leaders said on Saturday. They felt it was unfortunate that New York taxi cabs, driven mostly by immigrants, chose not to pick up African American fares.
About 40 per cent of 25,000 drivers of yellow and black cabs and limousines, are from the Indian subcontinent.
"Are we the only drivers who are afraid to pick up African Americans?" asked Trevor Pinto a former cabby. "Even many African Americans are scared to go parts of the city. Who complaints against them? We are more vulnerable and we are always blamed for what goes wrong in the taxi industry."
He believes the number of African Americans who find it difficult to get a cab is exaggerated. "For every two drivers who are scared to pick up a passenger, there are ten or fifteen who will stop their cars," he said. "For many, it is a question of making a little extra money, it is a question of survival."
Reverend Al Sharpton, one of the most litigious of African American leaders, is threatening a class action suit against the Taxi and Limousine Commission, operated by the city. The TLC runs a number of services, including that of licensing and disciplining of cabbies in New York. Recently, the TLC made licensing regulations stricter but Reverend Sharpton complains that the issue of racial discrimination was ignored completely.
Backing his threat, Ramona Whaley, the only African American among the 10 TLC members, said the organization has routinely ignored the complaints against cabbies by minorities. The attitude at TLC is that there are more serious things to do, Whaley said.
In certain parts of the city "we are invisible," Whaley said, adding that cabbies refused to go to areas such as Harlem and Bradford-Stuyvesant pocket of Brooklyn.
Eric Adams, the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement has called on African American and Hispanic police officers, to pay attention to complaints and write summons against erring cabbies.
"We are asking African American officers to take a lead in this," Adams said, adding that for long, the officers have ignored the problem.
In the middle of criticism and threats, cabbies mulled what could happen next.
"Could we sue somebody for the threats we face each day?" wondered a cabbie from Jullunder who has been driving a yellow cab for eight years in New York.
"Each day, we are insulted by the police, mugged by teenagers, and are robbed during the day and night -- and our complaints are ignored."
The recent controversy involving cabbies surfaced when one of Hollywood's most visible movie stars, Danny Glover, had trouble finding a cab in mid-Manhattan last week. Glover was with his daughter, a student at New York University and a friend when he says he was "humiliated" by five cabbies who refused to stop for them.
Several African Americans responding to the issue of cabbies feeling threatened, saying, "If the heat is too much, get out of the kitchen."
G S Bajwa, a veteran cabbie, is angry that many people have told him in recent days that if he is afraid of driving a cab in New York, he should look for another job.
"It would be nice for the passengers to drive their own taxis," he said, his voice rising.
Some day, the city may have to offer special incentives and guns for cabbies, he says.
"There may not be cabbies left in this city."
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