BY JON CRONIN
A group of for-hire drivers took to the steps of the Queens County Criminal Court on Tuesday to call for greater protection for drivers after a bill to address the matter stalled in the state legislature.
Ali Najmi, a criminal defense attorney, said that the drivers and community advocates had dropped by the courthouse in Kew Gardens to call for each borough’s district attorney to make protecting for-hire drivers from assault a priority.
Najmi noted that assaulting MTA drivers is a felony and argued that the same rules should apply to for-hire drivers. He added that in the 2017 state legislative session, a bill that would add for-hire drivers to that law passed in the state Senate, but the Assembly took no action.
Tofazzal Bhuiyan, an Astoria resident and Uber driver, was beaten by two men in January 2017 after his passengers believed that he was not following their directions, even though the men did not give him an address. The men injured his spinal cord during the beating. He had to undergo spinal cord surgery and was not able to work for seven months. Bhuiyan said that his wife had to return to work while pregnant. She later miscarried and believes that it was a result of stress.
Two men were arrested in the attack but later given adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) dispositions by the Queens district attorney’s office. If the men keep their records clean for six months, the record of the incident will be removed from their files.
“These are the lives of hardworking people who need justice,” said Najmi.
Irfan Hyder, another Uber driver, was beaten in Richmond Hill in January 2018 by two of his customers. They were upset after he told them that he didn’t have a usable phone charger and asked him to go the wrong way down a one-way street. One man put him in a chokehold as the other man repeatedly punched Hyder in the face. They also caused $2,000 in damages to Hyder’s car.
Hyder had previously had surgery to correct a droopy eye and had to undergo that surgery again after the attack. He has not been able to work more than four hours a day since the assault. Hyder said that only one of the men who allegedly attacked him was arrested. He added that the Queens DA’s office will not be seeking restitution for the damage caused to his car.
Jaswant Singh, a yellow-cab driver, was assaulted in February 2016 in Manhattan after he chased a customer who did not pay the fare. The Manhattan district attorney’s office met with Singh and the case is still pending.
“This problem is bigger than we have time for in a press conference,” said Maf Uddin, the president of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor, adding that the victims who spoke from the Queens courthouse’s steps help to keep the city moving. “These are the people who do not have a voice. These are the people who are being lost.”