#BankingWhileBlack is the latest way to get the cops called on you, a black man in Cleveland learned this month. Paul McCowns is accusing employees of a local bank of racial profiling after he found himself detained in the back of a police car. In an exclusive interview, McCowns tells a Cleveland CBS affiliate that all he was trying to do was cash his first paycheck from a new job.
McCowns, who started at an unnamed electric company in November, attempted to cash the payroll check at the Huntington Bank, inside a grocery store in the west-side inner-ring suburb of Brooklyn. As a non-customer of the bank, McCowns was required to present two forms of identification. He did so—his driver’s license and his Social Security card. Next, he was asked for a fingerprint—again, McCowns complied.
That’s when this became A Whole Thing. Multiple tellers appeared and began “challenging the transaction.”
According to McCowns, bank employees started looking at the computer screen and questioning the transaction.
“They tried to call my employer numerous times. He never picked up the phone,” he said.
The Huntington tellers handed McCowns the check back, refusing to cash it, so he went on his way, without the $1,082.24 that he had earned. As McCowns got in his truck, he was stopped by Brooklyn police in a squad car and ordered out of his truck. He was handcuffed and placed in the back of the cop car.
Why? Because some Huntington teller called 911 on him.
[A]s he was leaving the bank, employees called 911 on him. Cleveland 19 obtained a copy of the 911 call and police report.
“He’s trying to cash a check and the check is fraudulent. It does not match our records,” said the teller to a 911 operator.
The operator asks the teller: “does he know you called 911?”
The teller responds: “no.”
Within a few minutes of his detainment, his employer was finally reached by telephone, and confirmed that no , McCowns was not trying to pass a bad check.
“My employer said yes he works for me. He just started and yes, my payroll company does pay him that much,” McCowns explained.
Brooklyn police confirmed with CBS 19 that there was no fraud, though they avoided the racist elephant in the room. A spokesperson for Huntington Bank initially claimed that the tellers were just being “hyper vigilant,” see, since that particular branch had experienced a recent uptick in fraud.
McCowns was able to cash his paycheck at a different branch the next day, with zero cops called. He described the incident at the Brooklyn branch as “highly embarrassing.” When asked what he wants out of the situation, he sighed as he pondered his desires.
“I mainly want them—I want an apology, a sincere apology.”
McCowns also wants the bank to change its protocol for cashing checks for non-customers. Huntington reps claim that they’ve been trying to call McCowns, but he isn’t returning their calls. The bank also released the following statement:
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. McCowns for this extremely unfortunate event. We accept responsibility for contacting the police as well as our own interactions with Mr. McCowns. Anyone who walks into a Huntington branch should feel welcomed. Regrettably, that did not occur in this instance and we are very sorry. We hold ourselves accountable to the highest ethical standards in how we operate, hire and train colleagues, and interact with the communities we have the privilege of serving.”
The bank says it’s working on policy changes and extra education for Brooklyn branch employees; hopefully it sinks in to the bank’s tellers that black folks can and do hold jobs, and can and do get paychecks. Hopefully it sinks in that the average fraudster wouldn’t offer up their state-issued ID, their federally issued ID, plus a fingerprint, if they were trying to get away with $1,082.24. As the Root’s Michael Harriot points out, “If you think they would have called the police on a white man, you’re lying to yourself. If you think they do this to every customer, you are crazy.”
So hopefully, white people will stop siccing the police on black people they assume are criminals, but who are actually just doing everyday tasks, like #BankingWhileBlack, and this constant abuse of 911 will finally stop.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.