WE PRINT TODAY a letter from George W. Crawford, interim head of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, responding to taxi commissioner Sandra Seegars's recent suggestions that cabdrivers should refuse to pick up "dangerous-looking" black passengers and avoid taking fares to "dangerous neighborhoods." He points out that her advice runs counter to both D.C. law and taxicab commission policy.
Ms. Seegars is new to the commission. But the language she uses to make her point is as old as this country's unpleasant racial history. She would approve of discrimination against an entire segment of passengers based solely on race and appearance. "Late at night, if I saw young black men dressed in a slovenly way, I wouldn't pick them up, either. And during the day, I'd think twice about it," she wrote in an Outlook piece last Sunday. That was after an interview in which she warned D.C. cab drivers against picking up passengers who were "dangerous-looking," which she defined as a "young black guy . . . with his hat on backwards, shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants down below his underwear and unlaced tennis shoes."
Ms. Seegars believes her stance is warranted by the number of crimes committed against taxi drivers in the District. But Mr. Crawford, no less concerned about crime, was right to denounce them, as was Mayor Williams, who called them "inexcusable." Some people have noted that Ms. Seegars is black. That makes her remarks no less distasteful. It's sad that Ms. Seegars, who has lived in Southeast Washington for more than 30 years, finds all young black men not neatly dressed to be threatening. It's beyond sad when a public official brands all black young men attired in so-called "thug-life" dress as dangerous and deserving of discriminatory treatment.
The safety of taxicab drivers is a major public safety concern. City leaders, police and taxicab commissioners must aggressively pursue steps to reduce the risks of hacking. Rules already permit drivers to refuse service if they have cause to fear harm to themselves or their cabs. Obviously, they need more effective safety measures. But the rules do not allow racial profiling or the redlining of neighborhoods. Nor should they.