GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are looking for several witnesses to a possible hate crime against a taxi cab driver in downtown Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Police Department says the Grand Rapids Taxi driver, Yemaj Adem, was picking up five women outside The B.O.B. on Monroe Avenue just before 2:30 a.m. Saturday when a man also entered his vehicle.
GRPD Sgt. Terri Dixon told 24 Hour News 8 that about a mile into the ride, the women asked to get out at Straight Avenue and W. Fulton Street because the male passenger made them uncomfortable.
The suspect then asked the driver to take him to another location. When the driver told him it would cost him more money, police say the suspect punched the driver in the head and face while repeatedly yelling, “Trump.”
“I’m an African-American and just, the hate — I didn’t expect it. They say something, but a punch is something new to me. I’ve never been attacked since I was doing this almost five years now,” Adem, who is originally from Ethiopia but is a naturalized American citizen, told 24 Hour News 8.
In police video recorded after the passenger’s arrest, the suspect can be heard off-camera repeatedly saying racial slurs about the victim, who was talking to officers.
Jail records show Jacob Holtzlander, 23, was arrested on Nov. 12 for misdemeanor assault, but released from jail the same day. It’s not yet clear what actual charges Holtzlander will face as he has not yet been arraigned.
Adem explained that Holtzlander seemed drunk and police agree they believe alcohol was a factor in the incident.
Holtzlander’s mug shot shows blood on his face. Adem said he did not retaliate. He said he saw that the suspect was still agitated while in the back of the police cruiser and thinks may have hit his head because he saw him acting violently.
Efforts on Thursday to get comment from Holtzlander were unsuccessful.
Police hope they can find enough evidence to add a charge of ethnic intimidation against the suspect, but they need the help of the five women who left the cab.
“At this point, we believe they were not together, that the females entered the cab on their own accord and that our male jumped into the cab really to just join them, but we do not believe they know each other,” Dixon said. “Our goal is to get a better picture or full picture of what took place prior to the assault and they might be able to provide that testimony.”
The women are encouraged to call police at 616.456.3829.
There have been reports across the state of more cases of ethnic intimidation and hate speech in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s election, but GRPD said they are only investigating this case:
“This is the only case we’re investigating that even potentially comes close to ethnic intimidation. We only have one and this is the one, so we are fortunate and our hope is this is the only one,” Dixon said.
Adem told 24 Hour News 8 the incident has him on edge, but he’s still willing to help people get home safe every night.
“You never know who you got in the car, so now I just get ready and be aware of it. I’m proud of who I am and where I’m from. I don’t have any shame of it. I’m proud of being an Ethiopian. I’m proud of being a citizen. I’m proud of being an American,” he said.