Ed Bradley, CBS correspondent and anchorman of the network's Sunday Night News program, walked out of the White House recently, stepped up to the curb at the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and threw an arm in the air to hail a taxicab.
"I guess I looked repectable enough," he said. "I was wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. A few cabs passed by - I didn't think anything of it. A cabbie pulled around the corner and pointed to his off-duty sign.
"Then he stopped 10 feet away and picked up a white guy," said Bradley, who is black. "I heard the guy give him an address and they were off. Just like that."
Black men in a variety of professions complained in interviews that they repeatedly are refused service by boths black and white cab drivers in the city.
They said it is a longstanding problem but that the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks in the aftermath of an unusual number of robberies and shooting of cab drivers in the city. There have been 12 holdups of cab drivers in Washington this months. One of those drivers was shot and killed and another was injured by gunfire.
Because these crimes have been committed mostly by young black men, several cab drivers have said they have become wary of picking up black males for fear of being robbed.
"It seems like they can't judge character," said Ernest Holsendolph, the urban affairs correspondent of The New York Times. "You realize it doesn't matter what you've done in life. They're judging the color of your face."
"I've been standing around on the corner and people will come up to me and ask for an autograph," said Bradley, whose face is telecast to millions of homes from the White House and CBS anchor desk each week. "But, I can't get a cab."
Darryl A. Hill, president of The Greater Washington Business Center, calls cabbies who refuse to pick up black his "pet peeve." Hill, who said he regularly wears a suit and tie, said he does not know how blacks who dress casually ever get a cab.
"I remember coming out of the Washington Hilton and waiting my turn for one of the cabs that are lined up outside," Hill said. "One after another, they refused to take me where I was going. They would drive to the back of the line. I told the doorman I wasn't moving until I got a cab. The people in back of me would have to wait."
A cab finally took Hill away.
"I especiclly dislike those African cabbies," said Calvin Rolark, a District of Columbia politician and newspaper publisher. "The African student drivers prefer whites - they'll tell you. I've had them give me a nasty look before they stop for some white person down the street."
One cab driver gave a Washington Post copy aide, who is black a ride last week only after the aide ran to the cab at a stoplight, told the driver he was later to work and showed him identification cards.
In explaining why he had not stopped for the aide earlier, the cab driver said: "You ain't got but one life, bro." "You probably knew that fellow that was doing all that shooting didn't you," he added, glancing frequenty in his rear view mirror.
"Man, you gotta be scared, you ain't got but one life - you got to think of it that way," he said.
Many black men do not think of it that way.
"I really resent the way cabbies are acting," said Bernard Keels, a music teacher at Duke Ellington High School. "Every black man in town has to walk because a couple of boys committed a horrible crime. You don't see everybody passing up whites when the police identify a white suspect in a shooting."
The District's hack office which oversees taxicabs in the city, reports that 70 per cent of its complaints come from persons who claim to have been refused service by taxi drivers. Sharon White, a complaints examiner, said the office gets 50 to 60 complaints monthly.
Patricia Wimberly, an acting assistant director at the office, said complaints against be drivers must be filed in letter form. If the letter asks that the driver be warned, a warning is issued. But if the letter asks for a hearing before the Hacker's Appeal Board, the drive could end up with a suspension ranging from five days to a year.
Grayson Mitchell, a Washington correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, said he believed that more black men will have to file complaints against cab drivers with the hacker's bureau to change the current situation.
"I've called a cab in the jungles of Africa and never suffered the indignities of getting a cab in Washington," said Mitchell.
Mitchell said the "Knee-jerk negative reaction" cab drivers have to black men is another phase of dicrimination that black men suffer in public encounters with black and white policemen, store clerks, doormen and others in Washington.
"It's more difficult to write a check in D.C. if you're black," Mitchell said. "They're more stringent with you. This city is similar to Johannesburg.There is a privileged and catered class of 25 per cent of the people. Washington has the feel of a colony. Especially when it comes to how poor blacks are treated."
Ethelbert Miller, a poet, calls cabs and pays an extra 50 cents to avoid the frustration of trying to flag one down in the street.Miller said that anywhere there is money in Washington blacks are regarded with suspicion.
"If you go in a store, there is the quick 'Can I help you'," he said. "That translates as 'What the hell do you want in here?'"
Vincent Cohen, a general partner of the Hogan and Hartson law firm, said the problems of getting a cab or being served courteously is a "10-year-old gripe."
"The day of sitting at the counter and not getting a hamburger is past," he said. "It is a matter of money and jobs now. That is where the discrimination is and you must remember that Washington is still the South.
William Leonard, assistant to the director of the Metro transit system, said that because of the discrimination he has to endure from cab drivers and others, "You get the feeling they'd rather not have you no matter if you have on two ties and three three-piece suits. They don't want you."