By now, we know their names, their stories, and their hashtags — with the latest, alas, being Daunte Wright. With police brutality being what it is in the United States — and showing no signs of improvement or change — being Black in America can be nothing but terrifying.
And that’s exactly how Legal Equalizer founder Mbye Njie felt when he got pulled over for the first time. Originally from Gambia, West Africa, Njie moved to the U.S. in 1990 when he was just nine-years-old, and ultimately settled in Atlanta. Despite “doing everything right,” and following the directives of the law, he was still subjected to subhuman treatment at the hands of the police.
“I got pulled over three times in one day, for no reason! Then, on the third time, they said that I had a warrant out for my arrest, when I didn’t. And they put me in handcuffs. I was working at an insurance company at the time — what sort of threat was I?” he asked AfroTech. “Fortunately, I walked out of there with my life. Fortunately, I didn’t become a hashtag or a trending topic. But that’s really not the point. That’s not an accomplishment. The question is, why are we experiencing this in the first place?”
That experience, combined with the crystallization of the fallout from Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of Darren Wilson, in Ferguson inspired Njie to create Legal Equalizer. The app, which is available for both Android and Apple devices, immediately starts recording the second you get pulled over or otherwise stopped by the police. What’s more, it sends an SMS message to your loved ones to let them know where you are and what’s going on — no more hearing about your fate on the news — and, best of all, provides the user with a list of their rights and responsibilities during the stop, so you can know right on the spot whether your rights are being violated.
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Njie says that Legal Equalizer isn’t just being used in traffic stops, either.
“Some people use it in domestic violence situations,” he said. “Others, they use it in university settings when they’re in danger. And still, others use it for ICE raids — which, by the way, jumped 80% during the Trump administration — but, really, anyone who needs a “digital witness” to police brutality can see the benefit of this system.”
Njie ultimately hopes that he’s able to take Legal Equalizer public and make it more widely available for different circumstances. He also hopes that he’s able to implement a system where a lawyer can be contacted immediately upon arrest through the app.
And he has a message for those who are concerned about “privacy” through the app.
“Whose ‘privacy’ are you concerned about violating here?” he asked rhetorically. “Our first concern needs to be to our community — to help them if things go wrong — and to make sure no one controls the narrative and says such nonsense like ‘he wasn’t complying’ or ‘she smelled like marijuana.’ Police officers are supposed to work for us, the taxpayers — and if they do wrong, we need to hold them to account, correctly and legally.”
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.