Trump supporter calls 911 on black Lyft driver for not turning on the radio

Elise Solé
Passenger Robert Ortiz of New York City was filmed harassing his Lyft driver, Shawn Pepas Lettman. (Screengrab: YouTube/Shawn Pepas Lettman)

A Trump supporter who berated his Lyft driver with the N word has been fired from his job after a video of the harassment went viral.

Lyft driver Shawn Pepas Lettman of Brooklyn, N.Y., calmly filmed the 16-minute tirade by passenger Robert Ortiz and his two friends, who called the New York City police after Lettman refused to turn on the radio. “I feel racially profiled … because I’m not black,” Ortiz tells the 911 operator. He later adds, “If this guy does anything to threaten my life, I have to defend myself. … I’m a little fearful.”

The passenger then gets on the phone with Lyft. “Maybe because I’m not black … I was charged $8.01 for just asking for music,” says Ortiz, while threatening to file a lawsuit against the ridesharing company.

“I came out of a gay club and your driver is racist against gay people,” Ortiz rants, adding, “I know my legal rights as an American citizen that voted for Trump…” Ortiz also calls the Lyft operator, “a piece of s***.”

In another video call to a friend, Ortiz uses the N word multiple times to describe Lettman.

Ortiz also accuses Lettman of illegally filming him and says, “So, I’m going to make sure, while you’re recording this, that you never have a job as a Lyft driver again.” When Lettman finally speaks, he points to a sign in his car that states passengers will be recorded, to which Ortiz threatens to “make your night a living hell.”

Ortiz adds, “All that Black Lives Matter is bulls***.” He calls the police again while refusing to leave the car. “I bet you if I was black — and Black Lives Matter,” he spits, “he would have put the music on. F*** Black Lives Matter — every life matters … all I asked for was music.”

A representative from Lyft sent a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“The behavior exhibited in the video is deeply concerning. Lyft is committed to maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community and discriminatory behavior is unacceptable. We temporarily deactivated both passenger and driver accounts while we investigated the situation. After reviewing all sides, we reactivated Mr. Lettman’s account within hours and permanently disabled the passenger account. We have also reached out to Mr. Lettman to express our support.”

Anticipating a potential lawsuit from Ortiz, Lettman launched a GoFundMe page called “Insulted but not broken,” in which he wrote: “When my mother died she taught me a very important lesson, which was always useful but more now than ever. She taught patience, humble and calm will get you through anything. As a father of 2 my single means of providing for my wife and children is driving a rideshare, accommodating people from all walks of life. All of which I treat with the utmost respect, after all, I must provide for my family.” As of Thursday, he had raised nearly $26,000, well past the $20,000 goal. 

Lettman also explained that after he stopped recording, he called the police in fear of his own safety. “I didn’t ask for this nor did I want this,” he wrote. “I know America is better than this and despite the hate we have to deal with from a few, my heart tells me, the world is mostly good.” 

On Thursday, Ortiz’s former employer, CityMD, a medical clinic, wrote in a Facebook comment, “This is to confirm that this individual was terminated and is no longer employed by or affiliated with CityMD in any capacity.”

According to Instinct Magazine, because Ortiz shared his phone number with the 911 operator and it was recorded on video, he received so many harassing calls that he changed his number. 

Lettman did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, but in a Facebook Live video Saturday, he thanked his numerous supporters and said that no arrests were made that night. 

He also addressed why he kept his cool during the attack — or as one GoFundMe supporter put it: “You, sir, have the patience of a saint.”

“I wanted to defuse the narrative that all black men are aggressive and violent,” Lettman said. “Some of us we are actually capable of performing in an intelligent setting… It’s not always worth it to use your fists.”

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