Legal Equalizer App aims to make police interactions safer for Black Americans

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 10:55 PM EDT
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RAVENNA, Ohio (WOIO) - No one likes getting pulled over by police, but for Black Americans, it can be a terrifying experience, and it could even put their life at risk.

19 News spoke with one entrepreneur who created an app to help protect drivers in those situations, drivers like Darren Cooper.

On Aug. 13, 2020, Hudson father Darren Cooper was just sitting in his car talking on his phone in this parking lot in Ravenna when he suddenly found himself surrounded by police with their weapons drawn.

He’s just one of many Black Americans who have been in situations like these, but now there’s a mobile app that aims to provide an extra level of protection for drivers during police encounters.

“It was a very traumatic event,” Cooper recalled. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. At that moment I thought they were actually there for someone else and then at that moment as I saw the police officers surround the vehicle the most important thing for me was to remember what I had learned through the talk for example hopefully you’re not pulled over but if you are by the police to speak clearly, speak slowly and also to move slowly, no sudden movements.”

Thankfully, Cooper made it out physically unharmed, but the psychological damage was done.

He thinks a tool like the Legal Equalizer App could’ve helped him and will help others.

When you sign up for the app it asks you to add at least five trusted contacts.

In the event you get pulled over by police, you press a button, and the app texts those people and sends them your exact location with a zoom link that gives them a live look at what’s happening.

“It definitely does because it’s at the click of a button, tips of your fingers that you can contact emergency contacts and attorneys very quickly,” Cooper said.

The man behind the app is Mbye Njie.

“Every single year it seems like there’s a protest somewhere in this country over police brutality or police killing or shooting somebody and we always react to it and now we can be more proactive where we don’t have to wait for that time to happen we can say hey we have this device for when you get stopped, cool have your people there because it’s probably gonna diffuse the situation for the officers as well,” explained CEO of the Legal Equalizer App Mbye Njie. “I’ve seen the videos I’ve got sent from people who use the app where the officers on camera like hey mama and the mamas on the phone like hey officer and they were like that just diffused the situation right away as well so that’s the goal of the app.”

Njie had been pulled over three times in the span of two weeks. the third time he was told there was a warrant out for his arrest.

He was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car for 30 minutes before finally being released because the warrant was a mistake. he was fed up.

“I’ve been pulled over well over 150, 120 plus times in my lifetime and so just dealing with that feels like I was a fish in those catch and release ponds all the time,” Njie explained.

The experience convinced him to create an app that could help people in emergency situations like traffic stops with police or even immigration authorities.

“It wasn’t like I was creating something from scratch, or I was reinventing the wheel it was okay we just don’t have all these things put together in one place to actually create something that could make you feel comfortable and have that peace of mind to know if I am stopped no matter what I’m not alone anymore,” said Njie.

The app does more than just live stream the event with loved ones, it also comes equipped with state and federal laws, and the new version they’re currently working on will allow users to get legal advice in real-time.

“What we’re doing is building out a platform for attorneys to sign up so kind of like Lyft and Uber drivers can turn their apps on and off when they wanna work,” explained Njie. “We’re gonna give attorneys in local areas the ability to you know turn the app off and on and then when they’re on if I get stopped, I can see which attorneys are there in real-time, and what we’re doing is we’re offering people the ability to then pay for a consultation with that attorney for a fraction of what they would normally pay an attorney for.”

While most features of the app are free, you would have to pay the attorney, but since Njie wants the app to be accessible to everyone the fee will be discounted – for a 10-minute call you’d only pay about $50.

“I’ve never been to war,” Njie said. “I’ve never been a soldier but I kind of understand when they describe the emotions of PTSD - the sweating, the shaking, the nervousness, and so I tell everybody even if I know for a fact like even now I know for a fact I don’t have any warrants out for my arrest, my insurance is up to date, all of that stuff and I could be driving the regular speed nothing and if an officer even gets behind me I’m immediately nervous. I mean really like hands here, shaking, looking at the rearview all the time, okay if they’re pulling me over what is it gonna be for?”

Njie says before creating this app he honestly just avoided driving because he lived in constant fear of getting pulled over.

“I don’t wanna be harassed,” the CEO said. “I’m just trying to go to the grocery store. I’m just trying to get to work and I don’t really feel like stopping for 15, 20 minutes for you to ask me where I’m going or where I’ve been or where I live.”

Njie worked with police departments across the country to design the app.

The app even has a section that offers advice on how to act if you are stopped by police – he got that information straight from police chiefs.

“This actually safe for them as well because a couple of things one I think people are less likely to harm you when they have their loved ones on the phone with a video watching it, that’s gonna be a less likely situation,” Njie said. “Two, if they did do something to you as well we have a recording of it as well. I mean we had lots of very hard and tough talks because obviously, we came from two different situations - me someone that’s been pulled over all this time felt like I’d been harassed, and them who felt like they were just doing their jobs.”

Njie said when a user goes live, they can just share the video with their contacts, or they can send it out to everyone on the app that’s nearby.

He eventually plans on expanding the app to connect the live videos to other social media platforms.

“I’m definitely glad to still be here with my family members and after that traumatic event because it’s unfortunate that other individuals in the same situation I was in are no longer here,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s 16-year-old son just got his license and as soon as he learned about this app, he made sure his son downloaded it on his phone.

“I did not want to be in that situation, but I definitely would not want my son to be in that situation,” said Cooper.

In about two months, the app will get a new update that will allow users to get advice from attorneys in real-time.

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