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By Jack Cashill
Despite his imperfect English, Tariq Al-Ataby had to be aware of the December death of John Tvedten, a Battalion Chief with the Kansas City Fire Department.
The much decorated John Tvedten collapsed inside a burning warehouse on Clary Boulevard. The story dominated the news in Kansas City for a week.
As is right when a man dies doing a social good in a noble profession, the city mourned. The mayor called Susan Tvedten to offer her condolences. Thousands of friends and fellow firefighters paid homage to the man at a Kemper Arena memorial. And afterwards, many joined the procession that wound its way in solemn dignity from Kemper past his fire station four miles south on Maine.
Al-Ataby had to be aware of another story leading the news in December, this one out of New York City. Denied a cab on the streets of the Big Apple, actor Danny Glover was leading a very public crusade against ad hoc cab redlining in New York and elsewhere.
The Kansas City Star paid attention to this story too. It ran a special column by writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson whose experiences in New York mirrored Glover’s own. Hutchinson allowed that the cabbies’ “fears of violence are real” but did not accept such fears as an excuse for what he called “ugly cabdriver racism.” As a remedy, he dismissed Glover’s lame call for “diversity training” and opted instead for nailing errant cabbies with hardball penalties. Hard to blame him. One can imagine how insulting and infuriating the experience must have been.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
As to Al-Ataby, it is hard to know what he thought of this controversy. Having only spent only two years in America, and only three months on the streets of Kansas City, he was still absorbing the culture. As far as we can tell, he just kept driving his cab and minding his own business.
Liking hundreds of thousands of immigrants before him, Al-Ataby had come to Kansas City seeking freedom and the American dream. After a failed attempt to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he had no future back home. Despite the pains of adjustment and the travails of his job, the difference between life in a Saudi refugee camp and the free-wheeling life of a young Kansas City cabby had to be breathtaking. At 25, Al-Ataby had the chance to redefine his very existence.
Indeed, Al-Ataby fit well the prototype of the new American cabby. Curiously, neither The Star column nor any media I have seen mentioned one critical fact: namely, that there are too few native-born cab drivers, black or white, in New York City to muster up a softball team. Yearning to breathe free--and to them air quality is a triviality--immigrants of color dominate in most large American cities and have for some time. More power to them.
I always talk to my cabbies. Counting back they were from Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Nigeria, Jamaica, and Nigeria. Last month, I caught a cab in New York City with a Haitian, and we talked about the Glover incident. He blamed the New York problem on the Asian drivers, but he understood where they were coming from.
INTO THE FIRE
The fears of a big city cab driver are indeed real. In 1993 alone, 41 cab drivers were murdered in the streets of New York City alone. That’s right, 41. Think about that. Had 41 policemen been murdered the mayor would have called out the national guard. Had 41 media execs been killed--or 4 for that matter--there would have been a congressional inquiry.
1993 was a rough year for cabbies, but all years are rough. According to OSHA statistics, no workers in America suffer more violence on the job than taxi cab drivers. In fact, a cab driver is ten times more likely to be murdered than a bartender, four times more likely than a cop.
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