M.T. Hart drove his marroon Imperail Company taxi in a funeral procession of some 300 cabs, all following the hearse carrying the body of a slain fellow cab driver through the streets of Washington yesterday.
"The cab driver is defenseless behind the wheel," Hart was saying as his eye drifted over the near-noontime crowds. Then he spotted a young man trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab that wasn't in the procession.
"You can't drive and protect yourself from someone in back of you," said Hart. "So you can't expect a cabbie to pick up everyone. Would you let everyone you saw on the street in your car?" He looked towards the front of th funeral procession where the hearse carried cab driver Timothy R. Young's body.
D.C. police believe Young was fatally shot as his cab was being robbed in Southeast Washington Sunday night. They have not made any arrests in the case.
"The majority of people in this town talk about race," he said. "They say a cab driver won't pick you up if you're black or if you're dressed in a certain way and most cab drivers won't go to Southeast or Northeast. But that's not it. Cab drivers are talking about security. Protection.
It's our life," he said.
Hart and the other cab drivers who rode behind Young's body after it left a 14th Street funeral parlor for burial in Newport News yesterday were rallying for greater police protection of cab drivers and increased public sensitivity to their problems.
The combination funeral procession and protest threaded through noontime traffic in downtown Washington leaving small traffic jams in its wake. The procession traveled down 14th Street, then onto K Street before passing by the Municipal Building and the District Building. The cabs followed the hearse out of Washington as it headed for Newport News rally in an airport parking lot where several cab drivers gave short speeches calling for more police protection.
"I'd like to see the police pay more attention to cabs," said Joseph Bradley Sr., president of the Professional Cab Citizens Band Club of Washington, which organied the rally and funeral procession.
"The way it is now the only time the police notice cabs is when they're trying to give out tickets," cious anytime they pass a cab."
The rally cab drivers collected $365 for the widow of the slain cab driver, according to Bradley.
Young was found dead on the sidewalk near his parked taxicab in the 800 block of 51st Street SE. on Sunday, police said. He had been shot once in the head and once in the chest, according to police.
The cab driver's murder was the first in the Washington area since three cab drivers were shot in Southeast Washington last September. One of those three cab drivers died.
After those shooting police set up a special check point for all cabs going into Southeast Washington. That program was stopped in December after the number of cab robberies throughout the city dropped sharpply.
Other cab drivers at the rally complained that city hall politician and policemen are not trying to protect taxicab drivers because they have a low opinion of anyone who drives a cab.
"The reason so many people came out for this is that cab drivers are tired of being stepped on," said Jack Dembo, a cab driver. "Everybody seems to think cabdriving is a lazy form of work . . . when they need us in the rain, or a snowstorm or an emergency then they love us. But otherwise they wouldn't even want to associate with a cab driver."
As he drove in the funeral procession for the dead taxi driver, M.T. Hart said he understood what it is like to be young and stand on a street corner trying to get a cab.
"If you don't look right you're not going to get picked up, no way," he said. "I know. It wasn't until I started in this business full time that I understood all the problem that go along with it. But if you're standing on the corner being passed up by cabs it is hard to understand."