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Driven to Tears

The boys who shot and killed Zaheer Qureshi left his money, but they robbed a woman of her husband, a little girl of her father, and the cabbie community of its last shred of security.

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The teenagers accused of killing a cabdriver on August 18 know only a few things about the victim. They know he was walking through the alley behind the 2000 block of West Arthur at about nine in the morning. They know that when they ran away in a panic, after demanding money from the cabbie and shooting him when he resisted, he had bullet wounds in his left arm, left hand, left leg, and abdomen.

Here are a few things the boys don't know about the victim:

His name was Zaheer Qureshi.

He was 33 years old.

He held a bachelor's degree in electronic engineering from Osmania University in his hometown of Hyderabad, India.

He came to the United States six years ago to earn enough money to support his mother and his ten brothers and sisters. Many educated people trade professional careers in India for cabs in America because the work pays better. As his childhood friend and fellow cabdriver Abdul Hari put it, "Back home in India, everyone has a dream of coming to the United States and having a better life. Cab is a way of having a better life."

Three years ago, he married Fatima, a bride chosen by his family. After the wedding took place in India, he brought her back to Chicago. They had a 15-month-old daughter, Anamfatima, a name her father shortened to the diminutive "Anu."

He was taking night-school courses in computers. Every day, he drove his cab until five in the evening, came home for an hour's nap, then went to class. "He wanted to be a computer designer," said Fatima, who's now in mourning, sequestered in the family's West Rogers Park apartment. "He was very much interested in studying. He would study on weekends. On Tuesdays, he would come home and study."

He was hoping to save enough money to earn a master's degree in electronic engineering at Loyola University or the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was the credential he needed for his dream job. "In the United States, if you have a master's you have the edge," said his friend Hari. "Right from the days I used to know him, he always used to say, 'You should go to U.S. and get your master's.'"

He was a religious man. Early each day, he stopped at Bakiza Restaurant, a cabdriver hangout, for morning prayers. "Even on the day he was killed," Hari said, "he offered his morning prayers and he read a few words of Holy Koran."

Cabdrivers are not allowed to park their taxis on residential streets, so on the morning of August 18, Qureshi was walking to a private lot at Damen and Arthur, where he paid $60 a month to store his vehicle. He was on the phone with a friend, getting a traffic report. Since his daughter's birth, he often split up his shift so he could spend time with her. Normally he would have been on the road by five; now he was heading to work at nine. "He got a call from his wife on the cell phone," Hari said. "He said, 'Let me call you back.' And then he called back and said, 'I've been shot.'"

He was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston. Around five o'clock--on an ordinary day, the time he would have parked his cab and walked home to his family--he was pronounced dead.

He had $170 in his pocket. The murderers didn't know, because they never looked. "After they shot him, they panicked," said District 24 commander David Boggs. "He was killed for nothing."

Every month he sent home half of what he earned driving 12 hours a day, seven days a week. That left little money for his wife and his baby. Now there is no money. "He was the oldest son in his family," Fatima said. "To support his widowed mother and his brothers and sisters, everything is depending on him--they were very young....We don't have any money, because, you can imagine, he used to send home $1,200 a month."

His mother had a heart attack when she heard he had been murdered. She is still in a hospital intensive care unit. "Everything is terrible back home," said Fatima.

Over 3,000 people, most of them cabdrivers, attended his funeral at the Muslim Community Center on Elston. The funeral procession to Rosehill Cemetery was said to have included 1,000 taxis. "It's like a procession, because he was such a loving person," said Fatima. "He was never hard to anyone. I'm his wife. I know. He never gave me any pain in three years of marriage."

Because his family is destitute, two banks have set up accounts to take donations for their support. At TCF Bank, which has branches in many Jewel stores, the account number is 8875494459. National Republic Bank, an Indian-owned bank at 2615 W. Devon, has pledged to exceed the biggest donation it receives. "Whatever is the highest amount, we will be one dollar ahead of it," vowed bank executive Rohit Maniar, who himself was a victim of violence last year, when he and his wife were taken hostage during a robbery.

Qureshi's murder occurred a block away from Devon, hours before the annual Indian Independence Day parade. On August 30 Jatinder Singh Bedi, editor of the Indian Reporter and World News, convened a meeting of politicians, police officers, and community leaders to discuss crime and violence along the business strip. "We all wish right on the 18th, when we were getting ready for the celebration of Independence Day, a police could have been on the corner of Damen to stop the murder of this cabdriver," Bedi said at the outset of the meeting, which was held in the banquet hall of the Viceroy of India restaurant. "In the real world, we know that is humanly not possible."

As a result of the murder, and a recent rash of robberies on Ridge Boulevard, the police are now patrolling the area more intently between two and three in the morning, when many cabdrivers end their shifts.

Qureshi's murder so outraged his fellow cabdrivers that they held a demonstration outside City Hall, demanding they be allowed to park outside their houses. Qureshi had to walk six blocks to the lot where he stored his cab. Had he parked on his own block, his friend Hari said, "This wouldn't have happened."

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