“I have a customer here – he’s not really our customer. He’s trying to redeem a check and the check is fraudulent. It doesn’t fit our records,” a bank official said in a recording of CNN’s 911 call.
For many African Americans, what happened to McCowns in December 2018 is a shared experience. Banking while Black is another entry in a growing list of people calling on African Americans to do everyday things.
In the McCowns case, while the bank’s staff were unable to contact their employer to verify the check, they followed the protocol and provided two forms of identification and one fingerprint.
“It was very annoying,” McCowns said at the time. “The person who made that phone call – this director, this cashier – whoever made that phone call, I feel like he’s judging.”
A branch manager used racial ridicule against him
Racial profile creation in financial institutions is common, but most people rarely report it or sue because such cases are difficult to prove, lawyers said. Others just make their deposits or redeem their checks and move on.
But with the growing outcry against systematic racism following the assassination of George Floyd, more blacks are sharing their banking experiences. Last month, Florida attorney and businessman Benndrick Watson sued Wells Fargo, accusing a bank manager of using racial disputes while trying to open an account.
Watson had a personal check with the bank and was in a store near Tampa to open a business account for his law firm in April last year. While the banker was looking through corporate records, Watson told CNN, he discovered that he had a record company and started asking questions.
“It’s almost like they didn’t think I had a business,” he said.
The narrator brought a branch manager who began reading Watson’s information on his computer. Then the manager suddenly named him N ***.
“My jaw literally dropped – I was scared, I said, ‘Did he really say that?’ Said Watson. “I sat back. He started talking. He started scaring me. It was hard to explain.”
The branch manager apologized, saying he did not mean it and described it as a “slip of the tongue,” Watson said. He quickly packed his things and hurried to his car.
“When you go to the bank, your guard is down. You don’t expect it to be called a racist word,” Watson said. “I was a customer at this bank. I went to this bank. It hurts, of course.”
Watson said he wanted to raise awareness about the case, hoping it would help banks improve their relationships with small business owners.
Shortly after the incident, Rodal’s lawyer arrived at the bank on behalf of his client. The regional director wrote a letter to Watson apologizing and describing the incident as unacceptable.
“Although it seems that the expression of the offensive term was unintentional, we understand that it made your client uncomfortable and for good reason,” Rodal wrote in a letter to CNN. “Wells Fargo does not tolerate such 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 manager resigned as the bank was preparing to fire him and was not eligible to restart.
“We are deeply saddened and apologize deeply for what must have been a horrific experience,” the statement said. “Wells Fargo does not tolerate any discrimination. We take very seriously all allegations of discrimination against our customers and employees and take action to address them.”
A cashier refused to submit his check
Michigan resident Sauntore Thomas recently reached an agreement with a bank on a racial discrimination lawsuit he filed this year after a cashier refused to submit his checks.
A bank employee asked how he got the money and called the police to say he was trying to place fraudulent checks, the lawsuit said. Four police officers arrived and asked him.
“Something else was going on here,” said his lawyer, Deborah Gordon. “And in my opinion there is only one thing: banking while Black.”
Sauntore went to another bank, opened an account and deposited his checks without any problems. In a statement to CNN at the time, the bank apologized.
“The local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and all forms of discrimination,” he said. “We are taking extra precautions regarding large deposits and cash requests and in this case, we have not been able to validate the checks.”
After filing the lawsuit, he has been meeting with TCF board chairman Gary Torgow ever since.
“He is comfortable with the assurances that what happened is a mistake and does not reflect how the bank is operating,” Gordon told CNN.
The law makes it difficult to seek recourse
Since Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis and they demand justice and corporate accountability, there are growing calls for banks to tackle racial profiling.
Racial discrimination has occurred in banks for years with limited legal recourse, legal experts said.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act barred discrimination against businesses such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, but banks are not on the list, making it difficult for people with financial institution profiles to win lawsuits in federal court, according to Gordon. , civil rights lawyer.
“This act was written in the middle of the Political Rights Movement when African Americans faced the fact that they could not sit on a meter, stay in a motel or go to a movie,” Gordon said. “The 1964 act sought to address only those violations that were very much in the public eye. The act needs to be amended, but I doubt it will be.”
Some states have approved measures to address the gaps. In Michigan, a 1976 civil rights law covers everything, Gordon added.
Some banks are committed to making efforts to ensure a welcoming environment for minorities.
“As a company based in Minneapolis, we asked questions at the time about how we could help make changes to systemic inequalities, socially and economically, that contributed to a recurring tragedy,” the chief executive said of the bank’s diversity. USA Greg Cunningham.
He urged large companies and their leaders to develop meaningful relationships with businesses owned by blacks and to actively denounce systemic racism.
Wells Fargo said it was committed to a number of changes, including support for Black Businesses, to ensure that the company’s diversity and integration efforts lead to substantial change.
“All executives should be involved in a new live and interactive program specifically designed to address today’s challenges,” said Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf last month. “This will go beyond the current standardized training that is not sufficient for the challenge.”
The bank is committed to using such incidents to train employees and provide better services.
“The most useful and valuable approach we can follow with any interaction with our customers and employees is to learn from them and continue to ensure that our policies, procedures and training support fairness and equality for all. customer or non-customer with whom we interact “, he stated.
TCF has launched compulsory prevention training for employees and has reviewed its policies and procedures to ensure equal treatment of all customers, said Randi Berris’ spokeswoman.
But as businesses take a look at their policies after Floyd’s death, some bank leaders acknowledge that more work needs to be done to build trust with minorities.