Using common sense is one thing. Racially profiling people is another.
After a livery cab driver was critically shot in New York City, the head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, is urging his members to racially profile black and Latino passengers:
Here's the kicker: Mateo is of black and Latino origin.
So, basically, he's telling his drivers not to pick him up? How bright is that?
"I'm asking black and Hispanic people to profile their own, so how the hell can this be racist?" Mateo told the Post. "It's our own committing these crimes against us. It's weeding out the criminal element."
Mateo's comments came after a livery driver, Trevor Bell, 53, in South Ozone Park, Queens, was shot during a robbery by a passenger who looked Hispanic.
For those who don't live in New York, there are two types of taxis. There are the yellow cabs that you see mostly at the airport, downtown Manhattan and in the movies. You can hear New Yorkers whistling to hail yellow cabs, or more likely, standing on the curb with one arm out.
And then there are livery cabs, the Lincoln Town–type vehicles that operate almost everywhere else in the five boroughs, although they are being phased out in favor of mid-sized sedans such as Nissan Altimas. Mateo represents those drivers. You are technically not suppossed to hail livery cabs, but in the places where they operate, everyone does.
Until recently, you couldn't get a yellow taxi in neighborhoods like Harlem; that is, neighborhoods with a majority of blacks or Latino residents. But since Harlem has started gentrifying, yellow cabs are much more common. If you needed a cab in an area above 96th Street in Manhattan, you'd most likely be in a livery up until a few years ago.
Yellow cabs are notorious for not picking up black men. Actor Danny Glover filed a complaint with the New York City taxi commission a few years ago to highlight the problem.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a yellow cab driver refuse to take me to my location or simply pass me on the street to pick up a white passenger. It didn't matter whether I was wearing a suit, where I was going or if I had a pocket full of singles to give a good tip. All the drivers saw was that I was black.
It got to the point where I refused to take yellow cabs unless it was an emergency or I had no other choice, like at the airport.
Once, I was out with friends and we needed a cab to make it downtown to an important event on time. My friend, a black architecture student at the time, put his hand out and proceeded to stand there as cab after cab passed him by. We were blocks from Columbia University, where we both went to school.
We were dressed well.
We were able to pay.
We were also black.
"I told you, you were wasting your time," I said after he stepped dejected back on to the sidewalk.
Finally, his girlfriend, who is Indo-Guyanese, stepped in to the street. She had barely finished lifiting her arm when a yellow taxi almost ran its tires into the ground screeching to a halt.
You should have seen the look on the driver's face as my friend and I walked to the cab to join her. We still laugh about that incident today. And to be clear, I have had good yellow cab drivers who did not discriminate aginst me. I, unfortunately though, have encountered too many who did.
Mateo's comments don't make sense because not every black or Latino person is a criminal. It's ridiculous to think that you can tell who is a criminal solely by looking at them. It is much better to look for other clues or behaviors that can tip you off to a potential problem.
Using Mateo's logic, the driver would pass up the black guy in a business suit and pick up the white guy in a dirty hoodie who looks like he's on drugs.
The New York Post reports that Mateo's comments were met with immediate backlash:
"Choosing which passengers to serve on the basis of race is illegal, downright wrong and simply unacceptable," said Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky.
City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) added that Mateo was "just talking foolish out of . . . desperation because he doesn't know what to do about a very serious issue."
The Rev. Al Sharpton called Mateo's remarks "absurd."
Mateo also mentioned that drivers should use sucpicious activity as the measuring stick.
"So if you see suspicious activity, you know what? Don't pick that person up," Mateo said.That is what he should be telling his drivers. They should learn to spot the signs of suspicious activity. They should be taught not to fight if someone attempts to rob them. Besides, if these livery cabs stopped picking up black and Latino passengers, they would surely go out of business.
Bell did not deserve what happened to him. He is a father of two who was pulling an extra shift, so that he could have extra money for the holidays. The gunman only got $100 in the robbery. Bell got six bullets in his neck and legs.
Too often, these hard-working men and -- a few women -- are the victims of robberies because they are easy targets. But regardless of what Mateo says, sucpicious activity is not based on having black skin or Latino features.
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