Fernando Mateo, the head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, probably needs lessons on diplomacy and leadership. One can’t imagine why the head of such an important organization would publicly support racial profiling in a world where criminals come in all races and genders.
Mateo’s remarks came after Trevor Bell, a 53-year-old driver, was shot several times in a robbery. The gunman was identified to have been Hispanic, and was caught on video committing the crime. The robber got away with less than $100 after shooting Bell several times in his neck and legs, leaving the driver hospitalized. The tragedy was shocking, to be sure.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after the incident, Matteo said, “I don’t care about racial profiling. You know, sometimes it is good we are racially profiled, because the God’s honest truth is that 99 percent of the people that are robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are blacks and Hispanics.”
Mateo, a Hispanic man with a black father, also went on to say, “So if you see suspicious activity, you know what? Don’t pick that person up.”
Of course Mateo’s statement led to strong reactions by the city’s public figures, including Rep. Charles Barron and Rev. Al Sharpton. It probably doesn’t surprise you that both Sharpton and Barron think that Mateo is out of his mind.
I would be inclined to agree that he certainly needs to express himself in a way that makes sense. If he is supporting the idea of picking up passengers based on race, then he might be a candidate for the most self-hating black or brown person in America.
I was most disappointed that Mateo’s remarks came at a press conference, where you actually prepare what you’re going to say before you say it. Had the media caught him in an emotional moment after leaving the hospital, I might understand. But if you’ve thought carefully about your statements before a pre-meditated event, we might all expect your words to have a bit more intelligence, balance and perspective.
I don’t believe that Mateo is trying to advocate for blanket racial profiling (which is why he shouldn’t be the head of this organization, since you need to communicate with your audience very clearly). He doesn’t seem to be saying that drivers should sort out potential passengers solely based on race. His statement about “seeing suspicious activity” seems to be reminding drivers to do what they are logically trained to do anyway. Almost none of us would pick up someone who looks like they might try to rob us, no matter what their race happens to be.
The problem for Mateo is two-fold. First, a good criminal isn’t going to make himself look like he’s going to rob you. If he knows you’re on the look out for suspicious activity, then he won’t engage in any activity that might be deemed suspicious. If he’s really good, he might even wear a suit to work that day.
The second problem for Mateo is that his irresponsible choice of words gives a license to those who presume that by eliminating all black and brown passengers, they are going to be safer than they would be otherwise. This would explain why I can’t get a cab when I go to New York City, because men like Fernando Mateo have told the rest of the drivers that it’s OK for them to drive past me on a cold winter day.
Needless to say, we should all be disappointed in Mateo’s remarks. There is an element of realism to his statement though, given that most human beings engage in some kind of racial profiling. Let’s be real: the Muslim in full garb who gets on an airplane is going to be scrutinized a bit more carefully than the little old white lady from Idaho. The 6’5”, 250-pound black man wearing a hoodie is going to get stared down a little longer by the police officer. While we know that profiling comes naturally, most of us can agree that profiling based on race is wrong, illogical and unfair to law-abiding citizens who are members of minority groups. Therefore, it should be stopped.
Fernando Mateo needs to resign and be replaced by a leader with a bit more discipline in the way he views potential customers and the New York public. With the diversity that exists in New York City, the idea of banning any particular ethnic group from access to a public service is simply not a good one. Many drivers are already scared of black and brown people anyway, so we don’t need black men like Mateo pouring gasoline onto the fire of racial animosity. White people commit crimes too.