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Taxi advocate to hacks: 'profile your passengers'

Livery cab in Jamaica

Livery cab in Jamaica Credit: Michael Kirby Smith

“Profile your passengers,” that’s the surprising message that a top taxi advocate is sending hacks after a livery cab driver was shot by a Hispanic suspect.

“You know sometimes it’s good that 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,” said Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America and the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. “So if you see suspicious activity, you know what, don’t pick the person up,” he said.

Mateo’s fiery remarks comes as livery cab driver Trevor Bell is clinging to life after being shot multiple times in the neck and legs by a passenger in South Ozone Park Friday.

Rony Alfred, owner of Everywhere Car Service in Jamaica, said Mateo’s statements come “out of sheer ignorance.”

“Crime is not being created because of black, white, purple,” he said. “It has nothing to do with color.”

Mateo said yesterday he doesn’t know why his remarks shocked some people.

“The reality of the case is that our drivers have been subjected to all kinds of crimes by our own community — by the Hispanic and African-American community,” he said by phone. “Clearly everyone knows I’m not racist. I’m Hispanic and my father is black. ... My father is blacker than Al Sharpton.”

Sharpton, meanwhile, was adamant about the ills of racial profiling. “To start saying ... we’re going to scapegoat people based on race, I think exacerbates the problem,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told WNBC-4. “Racial profiling is never justified.”

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky agreed, condemning the practice in an e-mail statement as illegal, “downright wrongand simply unacceptable.”

Mateo said he wasn’t advising drivers not to pick up black and Hispanic passengers. He argued that drivers should be more careful in certain neighborhoods and of passengers wearing “hoodies” or trying to obscure their faces. It’s neighborhoods such as East new York, the South Bronx and Jamaica, Queens, where driver robberies and assaults are happening, he said.

He found an ally in Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, who said that people who are offended by Mateo’s comments are out of touch.

“They don't know anything about the hood,” Sliwa said. “They never crawled into the belly of the beast. A lot of people they don't deal with reality — Fernando Mateo and drivers deal with it everyday — or they live in Leave It to Beaver, Little House on the Prairie Land.”
George Anderson, owner of Murray Hill livery cab company Regal Carriage George Anderson, said Mateo is not off the mark.

“What (Mateo) said and the way he presented it was quite a crass thing, but with that said, people do it all the time,” Anderson said. “Anyone that tells you it’s not done is not being truthful about it.”

Karen Keller and Heidi Lee contributed to this story.

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