Remarks made by the spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers on Saturday on giving taxi drivers the green light to racially profile passengers have created a maelstrom of controversy in the New York community.
A passenger, who officers say appears to be of Hispanic descent, shot Trevor Bell, a 53-year-old Jamaican driver of a Chevy Impala livery cab, several times on Friday night.
New York taxi chief Fernando Mateo says the real issue concerning Hispanic and black livery cab drivers are crimes being committed against them by customers of their same backgrounds. The question remains on whether the offender was “street hail,” those who hail cabs off the street, what livery cab drivers are not supposed to pick up.
Mateo talked to theGrio about how his remarks should have been received, and what he meant by racially profiling passengers.
theGrio: What are you advising cab drivers do in order to protect themselves from situations like Saturday’s shooting of cab driver Trevor Bell?
Fernando Mateo: I’m asking them to racially profile the criminal element that is in our community robbing us, assaulting us, and killing us. I am asking Hispanic and black livery cab drivers that serve our outer boroughs to watch out for those that are wearing “hoodies,” that are hiding their bodies in order to rob them and shoot them and go kill them. I’m saying we need to be able to see who we’re picking up. I’m telling them not to pick up those that look and fit the profile of someone who is going to rob them, and usually when you’re going to rob a cabbie, they try to hide their features so the driver can’t identify them.
So, you’re not advising that cab drivers pick up people solely on race, but that they should be more aware of the people they pick up, and the neighborhoods they frequent to pick up people?
We transport over a million Hispanic and black hard-working men and women every single day. They are not our problem. Our problem is the criminals that live amongst us, that look like us, that speak our language, their sole purpose in life is to commit crime. I am tired of going to funerals, I’m tired of going to hospitals, I’m tired of seeing the pain and the suffering of families that are destroyed by these criminal elements, by these criminals, so the criminals that we are talking about are Hispanics and blacks, so in essence, I’m speaking the truth, I’m laying it out there.
I want people to know that it’s our own people that are committing these crimes against us that are destroying our families and our communities. I’m not talking about the millions of people we transport every day, people of color. I’m talking about the criminal element that prey on our fathers, our mothers, that prey on our community.
Over the weekend, you made a remark that shocked some people. What were you advocating? How should your remarks have been received?
They should’ve taken it as understanding that we Hispanics and blacks have a huge problem, and that problem is our own people, and until we acknowledge that and we understand that, we are not going to do anything to change it. So, what I’m saying is, look at who you’re picking up, and if you can’t have a clear description of who they are, don’t pick them up. And you know what, I can only speak of Hispanics and blacks robbing us and killing us, because that’s what the statistics tell us, so I can only tell it to Hispanics and blacks, so this is not a discrimination issue, because, you know what, I am telling it to the same people that are being affected.
Do you have those statistics?
NYPD has them. All I know is that every time they kill or they rob someone, the figures that we get are of a black man or a Hispanic man.
Did you get the description too?
Exactly, I mean we know who they are. The day after they shot Mr. Bell seven times, two black men got into a cab where the driver was a black man, they robbed him, they beat him, and they stole his car at gun point with a knife. So, you know what, it happens every day, and we need to start protecting ourselves.Do you or your family or your friends have a tough time catching a cab?
We don’t fit that description. Like a million Hispanics and blacks that we service every day, they don’t fit that description either.
What would you do if a cab didn’t stop to pick you up? What would you do?
What could I do? I can’t blame them if they feel like I’m a threat to them. You know, it’s like when I went into an elevator, a white woman clutched her pocketbook, and she looked at me like wow, are you going to rob me? And I said, ma’am, don’t worry, it’s okay. I didn’t get upset at her, I understood why she was concerned.
As the president of Hispanics Across America, have you received any backlash from Hispanics in the New York community?
I’m not looking to be politically correct. This is not a popularity contest, this is just trying to save lives. And if they disagree with me, all they need to do is speak to some of the widows who lost their parents, who lost their mom or dad to a robbery in a cab. All they need to do is look at or go to those who have been affected by these thugs, by this criminal element.
How many crimes were committed against cab drivers in New York in the past month?
There’s an average of about 300 robberies, assaults, and injuries to drivers every month. Those were the last statistics that I got from NYPD.
(TheGrio has reached out to the NYPD to cross-reference these statistics.)
Does it mention the race?
The people that are providing the service are Hispanics and blacks. The people that are committing the crime are Hispanics and blacks.
So, you’re not talking about the recent stabbing of a Muslim cabbie by a Caucasian?
That was an isolated incident that a Caucasian stabbed a Muslim. That was a kind of terrorism-type of retribution. What I’m saying is, that was not a robbery, that was more of an angry man trying to get back at someone he believed terrorized our country. That was a mentally disturbed guy.
Are there other alternative precautionary measures that livery-cab drivers can take? It seems Trevor Bell had a camera in his cab that helped officers identify the offender.
I put forth 13 different recommendations. This was just one recommendation, but we have a series of recommendations.
What are those recommendations?
Make sure your emergency light is working; make sure you don’t keep your money in your front pocket; make sure your camera is operating; keep you partition is closed; amongst many other things.
What safety measures are currently in place for livery-cab drivers?
All of the ones I just told you, but a lot of the times they don’t use them. Don’t pick up “street hail”. You know, that’s all part of what they should be doing. Make sure you keep a log of who you pick up.
What do you mean by “street hail”?
In other words, livery cabs are not supposed to pick up “street hail” in the street. When you hail down a car, it should only be a yellow car that picks you up, not a livery cab.
Why do you think livery-cab drivers are picking up “street hail”?
They pick up “street hail” because there aren’t any yellow cabs servicing the other boroughs.
Why is that?
Because they’re afraid. Yellow cabs are afraid to work the outer boroughs. They’re afraid of getting killed. They’re afraid of being injured.
What is the NYS Federation of Taxi Drivers trying to do to capture the offender in Saturday’s shooting?
We posted a reward, a $1,000 reward.
Is that a sufficient amount?
Well, look it’s only what we can afford. I wish we can afford more.
Did Trevor Bell do everything right that night?
I think that he did the best that he could. I think that, you know, in essence that’s why we put out this warning.
Was the person he picked up “street hail”?
That person was not “street hail”. That person went to the base. I don’t know the details of what happened, because Bell can’t speak. I want to be able to speak with Mr. Bell to find out what happen instead of accusing him of something he didn’t do. You know, the bottom line is nothing justifies him getting shot at 7 times.