BOSTON — Once again, the issue here is race.
According to authorities, the latest episode began about 2 a.m. last Saturday, after the subway had closed, when a black man left an office Christmas party and entered a taxi near Quincy Market, even then a bright, busy shopping area. He asked the driver to take him about three miles to his home in Roxbury, a predominantly black neighborhood.
The driver, a white woman, refused, telling him Roxbury was too dangerous and that he should get out of her cab. He refused.
After a few minutes, the woman radioed for help, and another taxi driver, reportedly her boyfriend, arrived. He ordered the man to leave the cab and, when he wouldn't, grabbed him, jerked him out and called him a derogatory name.
The would-be passenger was Bruce Bolling, 47, a member of the Boston City Council and a scion of the most prominent black family in Massachusetts. The courtly centrist marched two blocks to his City Hall office and called the Boston Police Department, which licenses cabs, and the city's newspapers.
In no time, the incident was Topic A. The Bolling affair struck a nerve among Bostonians and prompted a debate about race, crime and life in the big city. As so often happens here, the Angst has a familiar ring.
Mayor Raymond L. Flynn and Gov. William F. Weld commented. Columnists weighed in.
Dozens of cabbies were interviewed. Some, black and white, said it is dangerous to drive in Roxbury at 2 a.m., and they sided with the driver.
Some black drivers also cited a fact rarely mentioned by the city's white leaders: There are several virtually all-white sections of Boston where black cabbies won't drive because they are concerned about attacks by white hooligans.
In the Globe, columnist Mike Barnicle ultimately sided with the cabbies, blaming Bolling for living within two blocks of a notorious crack-delivery area.
Tuesday, police sought criminal complaints against Frank Razzano, the cabbie who allegedly roughed up and insulted Bolling.
City ordinances require drivers, as a condition of being licensed, to accept all comers and take them to any address. The only exceptions are for passengers who are drunk, unruly or committing a crime.