Guineans come out to pray for a fallen countryman
The cold-blooded killing of a Guinean cabbie on the streets of Hunts Point has raised alarm over the dangers livery drivers face every day of their working lives.
Several hundred Guinean immigrants flooded the streets of Morrisania in front of the Futa Islamic Center at the corner of 166th St. and Third Avenue on August 15 to mourn the death of Aboubacar Bah, who was shot and killed on Bryant Avenue in front of MS 424 three days earlier at 6 a.m.
Three suspects were arraigned in federal court in White Plains on federal carjacking charges on August 15, then detained. Bah’s Camry was later found in Castle Hill where the suspects are alleged to have abandoned it after driving away after shooting the driver and dumping his body in the street.
Bah, 62, had been driving for a North Bronx-based car service, but was not yet certified by the Taxi and Limousine Commission because he did not have the required security equipment in his car. He lived on East 136th St. in Port Morris and leaves a wife and five adult children in his native Guinea.
The president of the Guinean Community of America, Mohammed Jalloh, said he hails from the same village as Bah and shared an apartment near Bedford Park with his compatriot for six years during the 1990s. Like many other Guinean immigrants who attend services at the Morrisania mosque, driving a livery cab was Bah’s bread and butter.
“He was driving a taxi since he came here,” said Jalloh while waiting for the prayer service at the August 15 memorial to begin.
Bah came to New York in 1992 to earn money to send back home to his impoverished family, Jalloh recalled, and had not returned to Guinea since.
“Everybody here knew him,” said Souleymane Diallo. “He was a good guy.”
“He had his last prayer here at 5:00” on August 11, said Amadou Diallo, president of Pottal Fii Bhantal Fouta Djallon, an advocacy organization for Guinean-Americans and a regular congregant at the mosque.
Edwin Vega, a fellow driver at New Western, the base company where Bah worked, said his friend was trying to earn money to buy a camera, a partition and a two-way radio so he could earn re-certification from the Taxi and Limo Commission.
“He knew the streets, but it happens,” said Vega, 50, adding he has driven liveries since his father showed him the ropes in the mid ‘70s.
Vega estimates Bah would have needed less than $1,500 to buy the security equipment he needed, but added that no matter how well equipped the driver, “you have to know the street.” And even that, he said, is sometimes not enough.
Would-be thieves look for African drivers because they suspect they are easier to outfox than native-born drivers, Vega said.
“Africans are targets because they don’t know the street,” he added, and pointed out that many drive independently rather than working from a base agency with dispatchers, to avoid the added cost.
The president of a national African cab drivers association, Kane Mamadou, cautioned that drivers who avoid driving for established car service bases to save a few dollars are being penny wise and pound foolish.
“Drivers have to be cautious, have a camera,” he said, adding that while responding to calls from a dispatcher at an established base is not a surefire way for drivers to sidestep trouble, it helps.
The day after the shooting, a Bryant Street resident who declined to give his name said he had walked his daughter to MS 424’s summer program around the back of the school to avoid passing the driver’s dead body, which lay covered in the street while police conducted their investigation. When his daughter asked what lay under the canvas, the resident said he changed the subject.
At the 41st Precinct’s Community Council meeting on August 14, Hunts Point’s outgoing commanding officer Philip Rivera told residents that although “some people think it was callous,” that the body lay on the street for several hours, “it’s important to the investigation.”
But Rivera attempted to allay residents’ fears about increased danger for drivers, pointing out that livery hold-ups in Hunts Point and Longwood have decreased from eight this time last year to just six so far this year.
The story was updated on August 16 to include information about the arrest of three of the four suspects in the carjacking and the death of Aboubacar Bah.