NEW YORK (Reuters) - The head of a New York taxi driver organization came under fire on Wednesday for suggesting that cab drivers should racially profile passengers before picking them up to help avoid getting attacked.
The controversial remarks by Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, came after livery cab driver Trevor Bell was shot and wounded by a passenger last week.
Police say they are seeking a suspect in the attack described as a Hispanic male wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The driver remains in critical condition at a New York hospital.
Racial profiling addresses “a controversial reality that the people committing most of the crimes against drivers are Hispanics and blacks,” said Mateo, who is of black and Hispanic origin.
“It’s very hard to admit the truth when the truth affects your own community,” he said on Wednesday. “What I’m trying to do is expose a very serious problem that we have been facing as a community for a very long time.”
The head of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission slammed Mateo’s remarks.
“Choosing which passengers to serve on the basis of race is illegal, downright wrong and simply unacceptable,” said David Yassky, the head of the commission.
Activist Rev. Al Sharpton said: “It is understandable that we have outrage when attacks like this happen.
“But I don’t think two wrongs make a civil right,” he said.
Mateo said roughly 300 taxi drivers in New York City are robbed or assaulted each month. There are some 13,000 taxis in the city and more than 40,000 other for-hire vehicles.
Mateo said cab drivers should watch out for passengers wearing “gang colors, someone that is hiding his facial features and someone whose behavior isn’t appropriate.”
“We need to profile their behavior in order for us to save ourselves from the criminal element in our community,” he said.
Mateo said he’s undergone a barrage of criticism from several civil rights groups since first making similar remarks over the weekend.
“I’m advising Hispanic and black drivers to watch out for Hispanics and blacks that represent a criminal element of our community,” he said.
Reporting by Aman Ali; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune