Kim Reintroduces Bill to Raise Penalties for Assault on Taxi Drivers

On April 24, Assemblyman Ron Kim, middle, speaks at a press conference at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, joined by members of taxi driver associations and South Asian community organizations. (Photo via Korea Daily)

State legislation to raise the penalty for assaulting a for-hire driver in New York was originally introduced in 2013 and then reintroduced in 2014. Now it has been reintroduced again after recent attacks against minority drivers.

On April 24, Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, provided details of his amended bill called the Taxi Driver Protection Act. The bill would raise the penalty for attacking on-the-job for-hire drivers from a misdemeanor to a felony. He said that it would do so by adding for-hire drivers to a list of occupations which currently includes public transportation workers, for which assault is a felony and [attackers] could be sentenced up to 25 years in prison.

Also, the bill would require that a sign be posted in for-hire cars informing passengers of the legal consequences of assaulting drivers. Kim said that such a law already exists in New York City and the bill would extend it to the rest of the state.

Taxi drivers and community advocates have demanded that the punishment could be stiffened for attacking taxi drivers in New York. Kim first introduced this bill in 2013 when a Korean yellow cab driver was hospitalized after being attacked by a passenger but no felony charges were brought against him. The bill, however, never passed the state legislature.

“These assaults against drivers are completely unacceptable,” said Kim. “The fact that the victims’ ethnicity or beliefs may have influenced the attacker’s decision is even more despicable.”

“Taxi drivers are more likely than any other workers to be victims of violence on the job,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Drivers in New York City are almost all immigrants and largely Muslim and Sikh, and they face more risk than ever.”

In the past two weeks, there have been reports of two suspected hate crimes against a Sikh driver in the Bronx and a Muslim driver on Long Island. Another victim in a separate incident in February, Anwar Syed, was attacked on Long Island after he told his passenger that he is from Pakistan and is Muslim. His passenger asked him to pull over and started beating him, viciously, he said.

“No New Yorker should worry about being attacked for simply doing our job,” said Syed. “I call on lawmakers to protect taxi and rideshare drivers before another life is shattered.”

In 2010, a bill to increase the penalty for physically or verbally attacking a for-hire driver to two years was passed in the state legislature. However, David Paterson, then-governor of New York vetoed the bill.

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