Sylvester Whiting stood stiffly in the back of New Southern Rock Baptist church yesterday, staring at the open casket beneath a large, electrically lit sky-blue cross.
In the casket was the body of a friend, Robert A. McNeill, a cab driver who died Thursday. McNeil was shot in the head Jan. 2/ during an apparent attempt to rob him. McNeill died in Prince George's General Hospital. His funeral was held yesterday. "I couldn't take it anymore," said Whiting. "I drove a cab from 1946 to 1970, twenty-four years and I realized I was scared to go to work, man, so I quit."
Whiting said he was held up twice in his years as a D.C. cab driver, and both times had a loaded gun pointed at him. Whiting now works as a tree surgeon.
As Whiting talked, about 100 persons filed past the casket. Outside the church about 150 cabs lined the streets around Grant Circle, a block from the church.The motorcade later drove from the church, at Buchanan Street and Kansas Avenue NW, to Harmony Cemetery in Landover. As clusters of cab drivers waited outside on the cold, windy day, they talked among themselves.
"I'm here to show respect," said E. J. Johnson Jr., who drives a Barwood taxicab."I'd rather lose a few dollars than not let his family know that somebody cared... that cab drivers are sticking together through all this. We [cab drivers] want his family to know and we want the public to know that we are united."
Joseph Bradley Sr., president of the Professional Cab Drivers' Association, that organized the funeral motorcade, said in the last 1 1/2 years the number of cab drivers in the city has dropped.
"We had 8,000 drivers about a year and a half ago," said Bradley, "and now we have 6,500... Safety and the rate structure are the two main reasons that there aren't as many cabs out there."
Several cab drivers at the funeral said they supported a proposal to request that the Public Service Commission allow cab drivers to put orange "danger," lights on top of their cabs to indicate when they were introuble to police and other motorists.