It’s always depressing when allegations that police target African-Americans are confirmed not just by eyewitness accounts, but with audio or video evidence. Recently, a NYPD officer provided Gawker with chilling audio that sounds a whole lot like his boss pressuring him into profiling black men.
Michael Birch recorded the audio in 2012 when he was called to a performance evaluation meeting with his commanding officer and a lieutenant in August 2012. He told the publication that he was expecting to hear that he wasn’t generating enough “activity” — which meant he would be ordered to arrest more people and issue more summonses — but “the conversation just turned completely weird to” him when he was flat-out told to racially profile.
“Who commits the crimes in the city?” commanding officer, Constantin Tsachas, who was recently cleared for a promotionfrom captain to deputy inspector,asks in this rather damning clip.
Birch answers that it’s “mostly teenagers, anywhere between the ages of 15 and 19, mostly male blacks and Hispanics.” Asked who he is stopping, Birch explains that he stops “everybody..”
“Fifty-four [TABs] up to 8/20,” the commanding officer says. “Twenty-five of those are female. Half.”
“Like I said, I stop everybody,” Birch replies.” I’m not targeting anybody.”
“You just told me who the bad guys are,” his CO presses.
“Yeah, I know that. But there’s also other people who are committing violations as well,” Birch says. “I’m not saying that there’s not violations being made.”
In other words, people from all demographics break the law. That should have been good enough for the commanding officer, but then the conversation went completely off the rails:
CO: The male blacks, that you told me commit the crimes—
Birch: Plenty of people that I write summonses to are male blacks and male Hispanics.
CO: You stopped two male blacks.
Birch: Not for the whole year. You’re telling me for the whole year I only stopped two male blacks on summonses?
CO: 8/20. From January 1st to August 20th. Fifty-four TABs: two male blacks, seven Hispanics, seven other, ten white, three Asian. So where are you targeting the perps that you just told me?
Birch: Like I said, if I don’t see a perp jumping over the turnstile, what am I supposed to do to him?
CO: These people are not going to pop.
Birch: How do I know that? A female Hispanic that I stopped in Sheepshead Bay did pop, actually, for a warrant, and I arrested her. Female Hispanic. The Hispanics that we’re supposed to be going after. That are committing the crimes. The people that I—
CO: Did you think that she was going to pop?
Birch: Did I think she was going to pop? I didn’t put no thought into it. If you come up for a collar, I’m taking you in.
“Pop” is a term for when a warrant pops up and leads to an arrest. TAB is a term for a court summons resulting from a transit violation. The conversation continues, getting worse as it progresses:
CO: Here’s what I see. You just described to me who’s committing the crimes. You’re fully aware of it. But you’re not targeting those people.
Birch: I am. I’m targeting everybody.
CO: Two male blacks.
Birch: Whoever is out there. If I—
CO: So you only saw two male blacks jump the turnstile?
Birch: If you’re saying that’s what’s in front of you, then yes, that’s all I saw, is two male blacks for the whole year jumping the turnstile. If you’re saying that’s what’s in front of you, I’m not disputing that. If that’s what I got there.
CO: That is what you have. That is not disputed here.
Birch: I’m saying, we’re also talking Hispanics as well. I stopped a lot of Hispanics, too.
CO: Seven male Hispanics. But more than half are female.
Birch: And like I said, everybody’s committing violations in front of me.
“I was shocked,” Birch said of the meeting. “I was not only shocked, I was mad. My last name is Birch. I look white. They didn’t realize I was a Puerto Rican kid, and they’re just saying this to me like it’s OK. It’s OK, we’re amongst friends.”
“I don’t want to be stopped because I’m Puerto Rican,” he says. “I want to get stopped because I did something wrong.”
Birch is suing the department to combat “what he sees as a larger trend of policing that disproportionately affects minority New Yorkers,” Gawker reports. “The targeting of minorities by the NYPD has caused so many problems throughout our city yet the NYPD continues to promote officers who engage in these activities,” his lawyer told the publication.
“It’s very hard to have a job where the whole public is against you, including your bosses. And when you actually try to do something right, they don’t care,” Birch says. “I can’t wait to get away from this place.”
Birch is evidence that good cops do exist. The problem is that, unlike him, most good cops stay silent as bad actors disgrace the profession, unfairly targeting people who are not white. Thank you for stepping forward, Officer Birch. Hopefully, your example will lead other good cops to call out the bad ones.
Hear the audio for yourself below: