Monday, October 10, 2011
What Did the Cabbies Do to Get Themselves Killed?
The above question was asked by a neatly dressed, educated 25-year old man. I answered the question with a question.
"I don't know - what do women do to get themselves raped?"
The man was "taken aback" by the passion of my response. He mumbled an apology of sorts and said he just wondered what was going on in the driver's lives that led to their being killed.
Was this an oxymoron or just moronic?
Talk about avoiding the obvious. The fact that a taxi driver carries cash, is supposed to pick everybody up no matter how they look, and can be easily taken to places where there are no witnesses (red dots on map) might have something to do with these murders apparently never occurred to the nice, young man.
What was startling was his unstated assumption that cab drivers are somehow different than he is meaning lower class and living in a culture of violence, or possibly violent themselves.
This is a popular theme on T.V. where the killed cab driver often turns out to be an ex-Serbian torturer who was revenged by his victims, or an ex-gang member or involved in a drug ring. More to the point, perhaps, was a Law and Order re-run where the driver was killed because he 86'd a customer for smoking a cigar in his taxi.
A number of assaults on cab drivers, and possibly murders, do start with analogous situations. A driver was recently assaulted and robbed in San Francisco after he tried to collect a hundred dollar "barf fee" from a customer who had thrown up in his taxi. A similar attack took place in Athens Georgia last August.
If you don't mind a personal note, I've had a few customers throw punches in my direction because I said something they didn't want to hear - like, "stop screaming and get out of my cab!" I've also had two customers who threatened to kill me.
My favorite was a guy who said he'd kill me if I didn't make an illegal left turn from the parking lane on Broadway onto Stockton across four lanes of heavy traffic during rush-hour. Claimed he'd be late for work if I didn't do it. I told him that he should start for work earlier and insisted that he leave my taxi. Talk is cheap. All he did was glare and leave.
But cab drivers frequently are attacked. I could have said exactly the same thing to another man and been by shot or savaged. In my opinion, the difference between being assaulted or not is simply a matter of meeting the wrong person at the wrong time as in this January, 2010 robbery of driver Balvinder Singh near the Castro. But, Mr. Singh survived. Many drivers have not been so lucky.
Twenty-seven taxi drivers were killed in San Francisco between 1947 and 2007 according to the Taxi Library that has been complied by Charles Rathbone, assistant manager of Luxor Cab. I've only personally known one driver who was murdered but I have a little information on a few more cab driver killing:
1969 - Paul Stine, 29, was apparently slain by the infamous Zodiac killer at the Upper middle-class intersection of Washington and Cherry for no rational reason.
1984 - Geogre Ring, mid-forties, was murdered at the then tough intersection of Grove and Scott. It appeared to be a botched robbery with about fifty bloody dollars strewn around in the cab.
1986 - Leonard Smith, 46, was apparently the victim of another botched robbery. He was probably shot in the Western addition. He was driving toward an emergency room when he died.
1989 (D. 1993) - John D. Colman, twenties, was a student who was driving a cab to pay for college. He was hit in the back of the head with a blunt object when he answered a radio call in the Ingleside district. He fell into a coma and died four years later.
1992 - Richard Harcos, forties, was killed at a housing project on Blythehdale Avenue. Harcos had carried the groceries of two elderly women to their apartment and was confronted by half a dozen guys when he got back to his taxi. One of them shot him in the face.
1993 - David Hayes, forties, who drove for City Cab in San Francisco was shot in Richmond, California about an hour after he started his shift at midnight.
He was the one murder victim I knew. He was a small Englishman from Liverpool. He played in bands and knew everything there was to know about rock and roll music. For this reason everyone called him "Star." I never heard his real name until after he was killed. He worked the midnight to morning shift so he could do his gigs first. He often drove me home when I finished working. He was one of the funniest and sweetest guys I've ever met. He was a delightful person to be around. There is no possibility that he confronted anybody.
My guess is that he was killed because he only had the twenty dollars in change on him with which he started every shift.
2002 - Sukpal Singh, 52, was shot at 4 am on 24th St. and Folsom by somebody outside the taxicab. Might have been a hate crime. Might have been a stray bullet. Nobody knows for sure.
I could go on but I hope I've answered the question of what these people did to get themselves killed. For more information, check out this memoriam for 2,149 murdered cab drivers compiled by Mr. Rathbone.
Mr. Rathbone has also done considerable research on how to prevent homicides.
It is necessary to be careful but it's also sometime hard to know what that means. The problem is to know when, and when not, to be paranoid. One article about the attack on Balvinder Singh, theorized that the fact that Mr. Singh was "lured" up States Street led to his robbery.
And, it's true that States Street is poorly lit, has "little foot traffic and "only one way in and out." But it's also in an upper middle-class neighborhood and is the fastest, cheapest way to go from the Castro to the Haight. I've driven customers up this street hundreds of times. If I didn't use States Street, I wouldn't be doing my job properly.
I think that the most important factor in a cab robbery or a murder is not where you are but who you are with.
Veteran drivers like myself think that we have a special radar that allows us to see who is, and is not, dangerous. But many of the people on the Taxi Library murdered list had driven cabs for years. The rest of us are just damn lucky.