When he came out of the Huntington Bank branch in Brooklyn empty-handed, an officer waiting for him outside found the handcuffs and put him in the back of a police cruiser.
“I have a customer here – he’s not really our customer. He’s trying to cash a check, and the check is fake. It doesn’t match our data,” a bank employee said in a recording of a 911 call received by CNN.
For many African Americans, what happened to McCowns in December 2018 is a common experience. Banking while Black is another entry on the growing list of people calling the police on African Americans who work every day.
In the McCowns case, although bank employees were unable to reach their employer to check the check, it followed protocol and provided two forms of identification and a fingerprint.
“It was very embarrassing,” McCowns said at the time. “The person who made that phone call — that manager, the one who speaks — whoever made the call, I feel like he’s judging.”
The branch director used racial fraud against him
Racial profiling in financial institutions often occurs, but most people rarely report it or file lawsuits because such cases are difficult to prove, lawyers said. Others just pay deposits or cash checks and move on.
But with the rise of outcry against systemic racism since the assassination of George Floyd, more and more blacks are sharing their banking experiences. Last month, Florida attorney and businessman Benndrick Watson filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, accusing the bank manager of using racial fraud while trying to open an account.
Watson had a personal current account at a bank and was at a branch near Tampa to open a business account for his law firm in April last year. As the banker searched corporate records, Watson told CNN he discovered he owned the record company and began asking questions.
“It’s almost like they didn’t believe I had a job,” he said.
The negotiator brought in a branch manager who began passing Watson’s data on his computer. Then the warden suddenly called him N *** er.
“My jaw literally fell off – I was scared, I said, did he really say that?” Watson said. “I sat back. He started talking. He started scaring me. It was hard to explain.”
The branch director apologized saying he didn’t mean it and described it as “tongue-in-cheek,” Watson said. He quickly gathered his things and hurried to his car.
“When you go to the bank, your security guard is down. You don’t expect to be called a racist word,” Watson said. “I was a customer at this bank. I was at that bank. I was in physical pain.”
Watson said he wants to raise awareness about his case with the hope that it will help banks improve their relationships with small business owners Black.
Shortly after the incident, his lawyer Rodal reached out to the bank on behalf of his client. The regional manager wrote a letter to Watson apologizing and describing the incident as unacceptable.
“While the utterance of the offensive expression appears to have been unintentional, we understand that the client made it uncomfortable and with good reason,” the regional manager wrote in a letter Rodal submitted to CNN. “Wells Fargo does not tolerate this type of language under any circumstances and we have taken corrective action against the former branch manager.”
In a statement to CNN, Wells Fargo said the branch director resigned while the bank was preparing to fire him and did not qualify for reopening.
“We are very sorry and deeply apologize to him for what must have been a horrible experience,” the statement said. “Wells Fargo does not tolerate any discrimination. We take all allegations of discrimination against our customers and employees very seriously and take steps to address them.”
The narrator refused to pass the check
Michigan resident Sauntore Thomas recently reached an agreement with the bank on a racial discrimination lawsuit he filed this year after the seller failed to give up checks.
A bank employee asked how he got the money, and he called the police and reported that he was trying to deposit fake checks, the lawsuit alleges. Four policemen came and questioned him.
“There’s something else here,” his attorney, Deborah Gordon, said at the time. “And in my opinion there is only one thing: banking while Black.”
Sauntore went to another bank, opened an account and deposited checks without any problems. In a statement to CNN at the time, the bank apologized.
“Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” it said. “We are taking additional precautions that include large deposits and cash requirements and in this case we were unable to confirm the checks.”
After the lawsuit was filed, he has since met with TCF board chairman Gary Torgow.
“He feels comfortable with their belief that the incident that happened was an unfortunate mistake and is not a reflection of the bank’s way of doing business,” Gordon told CNN.
The law makes it difficult to seek legal protection
Since Floyd’s murder of a Minneapolis police officer and demands for justice and corporate responsibility, banks have increasingly called for racial profiling to be addressed.
Racial discrimination has been going on for years in banks with limited legal options, legal experts said.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in companies such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, but banks are not listed, making it difficult for people with a profile in financial institutions to win lawsuits in federal court, according to Gordon, a civil rights lawyer. .
“This act was written in the middle of the civil rights movement when African Americans faced the inability to sit at a bar for lunch, stay at a motel, or go to a movie,” Gordon said. “The 1964 act sought to address only those violations that were highly visible to the public. The law needs to be amended, but I doubt it will be.”
Some states have enacted measures to address the holes. In Michigan, the Civil Rights Act passed in 1976 covers most of everything, Gordon added.
Some banks are committed to making efforts to ensure a favorable atmosphere for minorities.
“As a Minneapolis-based company, we were then asking questions about how we could help bring about changes in systemic inequalities, socially and financially, that contributed to the recurring tragedy,” said Greg Cunningham, chief executive officer for diversity at the U.S. bank.
He called on large companies and their leaders to develop meaningful relationships with black-owned companies and to actively condemn systemic racism.
Wells Fargo said it is committed to a number of changes, including Black Enterprise support to ensure the company’s diversity and efforts to incorporate water into significant change.
“All managers will be needed to participate in a new live and interactive program specifically designed to meet today’s challenges,” said Charlie Scharf, director of Wells Fargo, last month. “It will go much further than the current standardized training that is not adequate to the challenge.”
The Bank has committed to using such incidents to train employees and provide better services.
“The most useful and valuable approach we can take in any interaction with clients and our employees is to learn from them and continue to ensure that our policies, processes and training support fairness and fairness for every customer or defaulter we interact with,” the statement said.
TCF has introduced mandatory unconscious training on employee bias and reviewed its policies and procedures to ensure equal treatment of all customers, spokesman Randi Berris said.
But as companies take their practice seriously as a result of Floyd’s assassination, some bank leaders acknowledge the need to do more work to build more trust with minorities.