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‘David Duke in Uniform’: NYPD Officers Say Top Cop Told Them to Target Black and Latinx Commuters on Subways

By Anne Branigin, The Root

A high-ranking NYPD leader who oversees the department’s subway policing division has come under increased scrutiny in the last week as former subordinates have publicly called out the leader on his racism—even going so far as to refer to him as “David Duke in uniform.”

Recent reporting from The New York Times and Gothamist have highlighted the accusations against Deputy Inspector Constantin Tsachas, currently the second-highest ranking cop among Brooklyn’s transit police. Multiple officers have filed new affidavits against Tsachas for comments he allegedly made between 2011 and 2015, claiming he dissuaded them from arresting “soft targets” at New York subway stations (which he characterized as white and Asian people) and urging his officers to arrest Black and Latinx men instead.

In other words, saying the quiet part loud.

“Tsachas would get angry if you tried to patrol subway stations in predominately white or Asian neighborhoods,” former NYPD officer Christopher LaForce said in an affidavit, according to the Times. Tsachas, who served as a police commander in South Brooklyn at the time, would redirect his officers to subway stations in majority Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

LaForce says Tsachas’ directives eventually drove him out of the police force entirely—“I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas,” he said.

In total, the Times reports, more than a half-dozen officers have come forward with signed affidavits in support of a discrimination lawsuit against Tsachas, filed in 2016 by four Black and Latinx officers. Each of the affidavits tells a similar story: that Inspector Tsachas gave explicit and racist commands to officers to target Black and brown men in New York City’s subway system.

“He’s David Duke in uniform,” Lieutenant Edwin Raymond, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told Gothamist. “I don’t throw that around lightly. Others know how to mask or euphemize this stuff, but when you asked him to explain a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ target, he’s completely blatant.”

Raymond, who’s now a patrol supervisor in Brooklyn, provided the Times with the affidavits.

From the Times:

The allegations in the affidavits were bolstered by a police union official, Corey Grable, who gave a deposition in June in the same lawsuit that recounted his interactions with Inspector Tsachas. He recalled Inspector Tsachas had once complained about a subordinate who Inspector Tsachas said seemed to go for “soft targets.”
Unsure what that meant, Officer Grable asked if the officer was ticketing old ladies for minor offenses? Inspector Tsachas responded: “No, Asian.”
Officer Grable, who is black, asked, “Would you have been more comfortable if these guys were black or Hispanic?”
“Yes,” Inspector Tsachas replied, according to Officer Grable’s recollection.

Other officers said Tsachas directed his subordinates to invent reasons to “stop Black men, especially those with tattoos, and check them for warrants,” the Times writes.

“I noticed that police officers often targeted Black and Hispanic homeless civilians as a result of the arrest quota,” Pierre Maximilien, a retired cop, wrote in his statement. “Further some officers would target immigrants due to the language barrier to manufacture an arrest.”

The allegations come as the city receives increased attention—and a lot of criticism—for deploying more officers into New York’s subways. The increased police presence, particularly to catch petty crimes such as fare evasion, has been viewed by civil rights advocates as an egregious example of over-policing.

Recent arrests of young Black men and women selling churros have gone viral on social media and inspired demonstrators to protest in streets and transit stations around the city. The affidavits provide additional insight, then, into how NYPD officers are instructed to monitor the subways—though the effect of this policing on Black and Latinx people was already brutally clear.

From the Times:

Between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic people, who account for slightly more than half the population in New York City, made up nearly 73 percent of those who got a ticket for fare evasion and whose race was recorded. They also made up more than 90 percent of those who were arrested, rather than given a ticket.

The surge in subway policing—supported by both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo—has drawn outrage from New Yorkers who see it as a waste of the local resources at a time when many straphangers are desperate to see material improvements in their commutes.

As NYC StreetsBlog reports, Gov. Cuomo’s plan to hire 500 more Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) cops will cost the agency $249 million over four years—to save about $200 million on fare evasion. The reasons provided for the spike in policing have been variant and inconsistent (overall crime numbers are down). When pressed, authorities couldn’t explain why they needed 500 officers.

Meanwhile, the city’s police officers have issued 22,000 more fare evasion tickets this year than last, reports the Times—an effort that a leader like Inspector Tsachas is still directing.

Of course, NYPD brass knew before Tsachas was promoted to his current position that his officers had issues with his leadership. Then-commissioner William J. Bratton addressed the accusations at the time of Tsachas’ promotion, denying Tsachas pushed illegal quotas.

“I have full faith and support in him,” Bratton said, according to the Times, adding that the rising Inspector had “the requisite skills and comes highly recommended.”

This article originally appeared in The Root.

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