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Sacrificial lambs (cont.)



Kansas City:




To be a cabby is to be a gambler. What a cabby plays for is a stake hold in America. What he risks are his income and his life. Al-Ataby may not have known the exact numbers, but he had some sense of where the odds were good and where they weren’t. The unfortunate fact is that young black males from 14 to 24 make up just 1% of the American population but commit 28% of the homicides. Foreign born cabbies may not know much about the historic forces behind these numbers--a twelve hour shift doesn’t leave much time for sociology--but they know too well the consequences.

The media execs know the story too. In New York City, they don’t take subways or busses--you kidding. They take taxi cabs. They know the color of the people who drive them and, alas, the color of the people who kill them. They choose not to share this information for one primary reason: it would tarnish the purity of the media morality play that they stage to enhance their own self esteem. That this distortion increases black anxiety and aggravates races relations is less important to them than that they get to feel superior to the stereotyped white racists of their imagination--and hopefully yours.


Given the numbers, one can understand the cabbies’ apprehension about young blacks, but why, I asked my Haitian driver, would they bypass middle-aged black men in business suits? Fear could not be a factor. “Not of the men,” he told me, “but of where they might be going.” He always stops to pick up black passengers, he added, but he does not always consent to take them where they want to go. There are places even he chooses to avoid.

In the wee small hours of December 28, just ten days after the death of Battalion Chief John Tvedten, Tariq Al-Ataby was dispatched to the kind of neighborhood that, justifiably or not, makes cabbies nervous.

A solitary driver, with no band of brothers to back him up, Al-Ataby took the call. He was expecting an adult passenger. He found instead four young males, presumably black. Either out of fear of losing his license or an inherent sense of fair play, he let them in the cab. At their request, he drove them to the 6900 block of E. 18th street. When they got there, one of the young thugs put a gun to his head and demanded money. Al-Ataby coughed up $100. They wanted more: his life. They took it in a single shot and vanished into the night.

Al-Ataby died alone on the streets of Kansas City, trying to do the right thing in America’s most dangerous job. Still, there were no banner headlines, no ringing editorials, no processions, no calls from the mayor. His was a story that the media do not like to tell, nor the city to commemorate.

Nor was there any inquiries beyond the routine. The last we heard from The Star, the police had rounded up three kids, ages 13 to 16, and were looking for a fourth. As to Tariq Al-Ataby, his buddies from Iraq were trying to scrounge up $3,000 so they could bury this unfortunate soul with some dignity.

To be sure, John Tvedten deserved the departure he was given. Tariq Al-Ataby deserved much better than he got.

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