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Saime Cesay, 49, a native of Gambia, who emigrated to America in 1985, survived an attempt on his life in 1993. He peels back the collar on his shirt to show the long scar a would-be killer's shank left on his neck. It was around 10 one night when Cesay's black Dodge with no partition stopped on Rosedale Avenue in the Bronx as the light turned yellow. A young black man hailed him. He asked Cesay to wait while he went into a building to get his girlfriend. But the passenger returned with two other men.
On approaching 100th Street, one of the men directed Cesay to turn left at the light. "When I make the left, two other guys are standing there and [the passengers] start fighting with me inside the car. [One of them had] a little knife and he cut me. But I am lucky. They never asked me for money. I had $80. It was winter, very cold that day."
Cesay stumbled out of his cab. "When I get out the car, I fell down. There was a lady in the window and they ran. Maybe they wanted to kill me, I don't know. I felt they were doing it because I was African. I felt that way and I ran. Two boys followed me. I am looking for cops but I don't find them." Cesay went home and his brother took him to a hospital. The next day he was back doing the job he says "nobody likes." In 1998, Cesay's brother, Katim, 51, fell prey to gypsy cabjackers. "They robbed him on Anderson Avenue in the Bronx, two Spanish guys. They took his watch and money." Last November, four black men bumrushed Katim's black Lincoln after it stopped on Fifth Avenue between 124th and 125th streets in Harlem shortly before midnight. One stuck a knife in Katim's ribs, pried him from behind the steering wheel, and stole his car. Katim gave up the gypsy cab business and moved to Atlanta. But his brother kept on working. He hooked up with the New Harlem Car Service, where he is known as Number 7-2.
Saime Cesay arrived at the base in the morning as news about the slaying of Sy-Savane Oumar began to spread. He had not heard what had happened to his dear friend. The cabbies mingling outside the base on Frederick Douglass Boulevard told him 4-3 was dead. "I saw him last night," Cesay said, his hand cupped over his mouth in disbelief.
"Somebody killed him in Coney Island," one driver said. In tribute to 4-3, Cesay parked his gray Lincoln and did not work for the remainder of the day. But two days later, he was ripped off. A couple whom Cesay had picked up on the street asked him to take them to Fordham Road. "When we got there, the man and lady don't want to pay me. I think about it. I say, 'I don't wanna make problem.' " They beat Cesay out of an $8 fare.
In anger, Cesay told his passengers, "That's why the Spanish [livery drivers] don't take you." (Babou says that while he sympathizes with Cesay's outrage, he does not share the sentiment that Latino taxi drivers, like their yellow cab counterparts, are bypassing African Americans for racist reasons. "I've lived in Harlem for 11 years now, and I really don't feel any kind of resentment between the two," he claims. "What you see is that the same people that are bringing security problems into the community are the same people who we are fearful of. Any old lady, whether or not she is African American, any regular nine-to-five person, is fearful of the gangs around the corner.") Cesay believes if he'd prolonged the confrontation the couple would have attacked him. So he has a new policy. "People are standing in the street and they don't have money and when they get in your car, they don't tell you. [From now on] if I take anybody and you tell me you don't have money I tell you, 'Open the door and get out, because I don't want problems.' "
Dame Babou says despite the killings of livery cabbies, more and more Africans are getting behind the wheel. "What is amazing is that they are desensitized [to the murders] because they have happened so many times. . . . We are almost fatalistic about these things. They say, 'Maybe not me,' and when it hits home it's always hard."
Additional reporting: Danielle Douglas and Associated Press