CONEY ISLAND — Eleven years later, a man has been arrested for the murder of a livery cab driver.
On December 31, 2008, at around 5:10 a.m., 63-year-old Khadim Bhatti was found with a gunshot wound to his abdomen in his livery cab on West 33rd Street and Neptune Avenue. He was on duty when murdered, the NY Times reported at the time. He was taken to Coney Island Hospital and pronounced dead.
Bhatti was a grandfather and had emigrated from Sialkot, Pakistan 25 years before his murder. He lived with his wife just a few blocks away from the site of his murder on West 35th Street, near Neptune Avenue. He owned his own cab and worked for Coney Island’s Plaza Town Car service, the NY Daily News reported.
Over a decade later, on Monday, December 9 at around 12:45 p.m., 36-year-old Christopher Smith from Crown Heights was arrested and charged with the murder of Bhatti. According to the NYPD, the investigation is still ongoing.
Ali Najmi is a lawyer based in Queens and a fierce advocate for cab drivers. In 2008, he was in law school when he heard the story. He thought the Pakistani driver could’ve been anyone he knew.
“This is not normal,” Najmi told Bklyner about the arrest. “Usually, if they don’t have the murderer in a certain amount of time, it stays unsolved. You have to praise the NYPD for sticking with this one and closing the case.”
According to Najmi, drivers being assaulted and killed is an ongoing issue. On July 26, 2019, 29-year-old Noman Saleemi, a Pakistani immigrant who lived in Valley Stream, was found with a gunshot wound to the back of his head in his livery cab in East New York. One month later, an arrest was made.
About two years ago, Najmi, along with cab drivers and advocates, went up to Albany to get the Taxi Driver Protection Act passed. This Act, which was sponsored by then-State Senator Marisol Alcantara, would protect drivers from being assaulted on the job by posting signs in for-hire vehicles alerting passengers of the punishment for assaulting drivers. Just as assaulting a bus driver or a subway conductor is a felony, these advocates want to make it a felony for assaulting for-hire vehicle drivers as well. The Act passed the Senate but did not pass the Assembly.
“This was a tragic incident where someone died. But there a lot of incidents where drivers face aggression and assault,” Najmi said. “There needs to be more punishment.”