Seattle rideshare drivers mourn, seek solutions after homicides

With five killings since 2020, drivers and advocates are asking the mayor to form a task force to address the violence.

two women are sitting next to each other. one woman crys into the arms of the other

Dahabo Shariif, left, holds her sister-in-law Ibado Salad during an emotional moment at a Feb. 29, 2024 gathering hosted by the Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association in honor of Salad’s son Abdikadir Shariif, who was shot and killed in Edmonds in January after dropping off a rideshare passenger. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Abdikadir Shariif was born the day his family fled the violence of the Somali civil war.

It was March 1992 and Abdullahi Shariif Ali and Ibado Salad took their children from their home in Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya. Abdikadir Shariif spent nearly 17 years of his life in the camp before getting the chance to move to the United States. It was there that Shariif Ali saw the first glimpses of the caring man his son would become. He said if his son had only one bottle of water in the camp, he would rather give it to others than drink it himself.

That readiness to give back continued after the family immigrated to the United States and settled in SeaTac and Tukwila.

Shariif helped elders in his community. He liked to bring food to his neighbors experiencing homelessness. He supported his family, picking up nieces and nephews from school and helping his parents financially since a disability prevented his father from working. He had a passion for feeding birds.

On Jan. 3, Shariif was killed in Edmonds. The 31-year-old rideshare driver had dropped off a customer a little after 10 p.m. As he made a left turn onto Edmonds Way, he nearly struck Alex Waggoner, who was walking in the crosswalk. Waggoner allegedly responded by shooting Shariif’s car 11 times. Shariif died at Harborview that night.

“It never came to my mind that I would lose my son because of violence in the United States,” Shariif Ali said through a translator as he wiped away tears. “I have lost a very great son. … I cannot imagine it. What did he do? He was a hard-working person. He was doing his duty. He was a responsible person.”

Shariif Ali was speaking at a memorial for his son in Tukwila organized by the Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association. The Feb. 29 event was attended by Shariif’s parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, nieces and nephews, fellow rideshare drivers, the Drivers Union of Washington, SeaTac Mayor Egal Mohamed, Edmonds City Councilmember Jenna Nand, Federal Way Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson, representatives from Alliance for Gun Responsibility and others.

Abdikadir Shariif’s father Abdullahi Shariif Ali wipes away a tear as he listens to Ahmed Mumin, executive director of the Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association, speak about his son. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Abdikadir Shariif was the fifth rideshare driver killed in the Seattle area since 2020. Fearing more killings and other violence, rideshare drivers and advocates are calling on Seattle city officials to help them strategize ways to improve driver safety.

“Drivers are very terrified. They feel this issue is getting worse,” said Ahmed Mumin, Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association executive director, in an interview with Cascade PBS. “Many drivers feel like they’re being targeted. We don’t know why. Back in the day, many drivers used to drive taxis and were targeted because they carried cash. But now they don’t.”

a portrait of a man
Abdikadir Shariif (Photo courtesy the family)

Mumin said they’re in the early stages of trying to brainstorm solutions. Some drivers have suggested installing a panic button in cars that would alert law enforcement. Others wonder if they could have an in-car camera that provides a live video feed that law enforcement could access.

The Drivers Association has asked Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell to help them form a driver safety task force to dig deeper into the issue and propose solutions. Mumin and Association chairman Abdi Shire also spoke at a January Seattle City Council meeting asking for help.

“This is a problem that’s going on across the country. We feel that the problem is bigger than us. Obviously the solution is going to be bigger than us also,” Mumin told Cascade PBS.

Mumin said Harrell has not responded to their requests to form a task force. Asked about the Drivers Association’s request, the Mayor’s Office provided a statement: “Rideshare drivers deserve to be safe. Mayor Harrell remains committed to working with rideshare drivers, impacted families, the Drivers Association and labor partners to develop meaningful, effective and sustainable policies to protect drivers.”

Drivers Union President Peter Kuel speaks about murdered rideshare driver Abdikadir Shariif during a rally against gun violence in South Seattle, March 1, 2024. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

The Mayor’s Office also said that the city is preempted from passing laws pertaining to rideshare operations because of a 2022 state law that set minimum pay standards for rideshare drivers while also barring cities from enacting their own regulations. In addition, Harrell’s office said the mayor met with the Drivers Association last year in support of a state bill, which the Legislature just passed, to extend death benefits to the families of rideshare drivers, and that the door is always open to work together on state law.

Mumin acknowledged the state preemption law, but does not think it should stop Seattle from forming the task force to help drivers strategize. He argued that it’s a Seattle issue because the majority of local rideshare users begin or end their trips in Seattle. Mumin also said they need local officials’ help because Uber and Lyft will not engage with drivers to address safety.

“Uber and Lyft, they don’t care what happens to drivers,” said Peter Kuel, Drivers Union president, at the memorial event. “If they did care they would show up for the families when something like this happens. But they never show up. Not even an email.”

An Uber spokesperson provided a statement: "The violence against hard-working drivers in our communities is gut-wrenching. Uber is deeply committed to the safety of drivers, and over the years we have taken serious steps to improve safety on the platform including building features like in-app audio recording, the ability to chat with a live safety agent, and an in-app emergency button."

Uber publishes a list of driver safety measures and policies on its website.

A Lyft spokesperson also provided a statement: “Safety is fundamental to Lyft. We are committed to helping protect our community from crime — that’s why we have a dedicated, around-the-clock safety response team and a partnership with ADT to aid in emergencies.”

The spokesperson listed safety policies Lyft has implemented, including a live-video program that allows drivers to connect with ADT security agents in real time.

“It’s a very serious issue; it demands thorough attention,” said Mumin. “The safety issue is important to tackle now before we lose more lives of innocent drivers.”

Representatives from several groups including Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association, Drivers Union, Alliance for Gun Responsibility, local elected officials and the family of Abdikadir Shariif gathered in Tukwilla to celebrate the life of Shariif and discuss the impact of recent gun violence in the Seattle area. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Violence has impacted many Seattle-area rideshare drivers in recent years, four of whom were murdered.  

Amare Geda, a 52-year-old father of two, was shot and killed on Aug. 8, 2023 by an 18-year-old carjacker while working in SODO.

Mahamadou Kabba, a 35-year-old father of five, was killed on Jan. 12, 2023 in Renton in a seemingly random shooting that seriously wounded two other men.

Mohamed Kediye, a 48-year-old father of six, was killed while driving in South Lake Union on Sept. 11, 2022 when another driver pulled up next to him and opened fire. Seattle police have not yet arrested anyone in the case.

Cherno “Che” Ceesay was a 28-year-old driver working in Issaquah. He was stabbed to death on Dec. 19, 2020 by two passengers who police say created an Uber account with fake names and killed Ceesay in an attempt to steal his car.

Drivers say their cars are often targeted for random shootings. In February, Bashir Aden was driving in the Rainier Beach neighborhood when a car pulled up alongside him at a light and a passenger started shooting at him. Aden ducked and avoided getting hit, but the bullets damaged his engine and totaled the car.

Jewel Davis said it’s not just gun violence drivers have to worry about. The Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association secretary is a former rideshare driver who quit over concerns about violence.

Davis has been sexually harassed by passengers. She was punched by a stranger in a restaurant bathroom in SeaTac between airport runs. Because drivers make the most money during surge pricing, Davis said they’re incentivized to do late-night pick-ups after bars let out, which has led to close calls with drunk drivers on the road.

Davis thinks rideshare drivers are targeted in part because they (along with passengers) are barred by Uber and Lyft policy from carrying weapons.

A 2023 report by the advocacy group Gig Workers Rising drew on newspaper articles, police reports and court records to tally driver deaths. It found that in 2022 at least 31 rideshare drivers and app delivery drivers across the U.S. were killed. That’s a marked increase from the organization’s previous survey, which found 50 app drivers had been killed between 2017 and January 2022.

A survey of 900 drivers across the country conducted by another progressive group, the Strategic Organizing Center, found that 67% of rideshare drivers have experienced workplace violence ranging from verbal abuse to assault to shootings and stabbings.

Ahmed Mumin, executive director of the Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association, speaks during the meeting on Feb. 29, 2024. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Shariif’s younger brother Abdirahman, who also works as a rideshare driver, wants officials to act so nobody else gets killed.

“My wish now is that it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We don’t want the sixth one to happen.”

Abdirahman continued, “And I want justice for my brother.” Waggoner has been charged with second-degree murder and awaits trial. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Abdirahman said the loss of his brother has been deeply traumatic for the family. He and Abdikadir lived together in an apartment in SeaTac, but Abdirahman has moved in with their older brother since the shooting and plans to move out of his old place permanently. “It’s hard. It’s day-to-day. The pain might last forever. We lost someone special.”

At the Feb. 29 memorial, Mumin shared remembrances and anecdotes about Shariif he had collected from community members. He said one community leader saw birds return to the feeder the day after Shariif died.

In his own tearful remarks, Abdullahi Shariif noted the deep loss the community was feeling in Abdikadir’s passing.

“Even the birds are crying for my son.”

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