COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mbye Njie says he has been stopped by the police while driving, walking, and even biking more than 80 times in his life. Many of those incidents he describes as racial profiling.
The Atlanta resident his own experiences in 2014 — coupled with the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a Ferguson Missouri police officer — lead him to create the Legal Equalizer App.
“It was a way to protect myself. ... I’m gonna make sure I have video every time I’ve been pulled over, so you guys, you know, can see my side of story as well," Njie says
The Legal Equalizer app allows users to choose five contacts to alert during a police encounter. In seconds, the app sends them your location, and a recently-added feature allows contacts to witness the interaction in real time via Zoom.
“If I have five people watching me, I’m going to be better behaved because I’m not going to be talking smart or do something stupid," Njie says. "Hopefully, the officer is going to actually pull you over and tell you why he pulled you over, give you a ticket and make that transaction a lot smoother,” Njie says
Additionally, Njie spoke directly with police departments and police chiefs in all 50 states for guidance on a feature that informs users of what rights they have and what to do when pulled over.
“I'm not anti-police. I’m pro accountability. And so, that's the first thing I wanted to tell them was like, this is not being (anti-police). We need you guys, in some cases. Like, a lot of cases. So, this is not to say every single officer is bad; it's just you guys should be held accountable if you do things that aren't legal.”
The most recent version of the Legal Equalizer app has over 175,000 downloads. Nije says police involved shootings that make national headlines lead to spikes in downloads. He points to the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Casey Goodson Jr. in Columbus by a Franklin County Sheriff's office deputy.
Aramis Sundiata is a social justice organizer and executive director of the Columbus-based organization People’s Justice Project. He says the app is unfortunately a necessary tool that can be used to increase transparency in police-involved shooting investigations.
“It’s a fear — that you can literally walk out the door, and without this app, no one's going to know what actually happened," said Sundiata. "We don't have a position, saying it's not helpful, but it's just very — especially in this time with Casey, ... You're just like, my God,” Sundiata says.
He says in cases where a police officer's body cameras are either turned off, not worn or may have malfunctioned, critical questions are left unanswered. Apps like Legal Equalizer could start to provide some.
“It’s a tactic to protect ourselves,” Sundiata says.
The Legal Equalizer app also has features to support those in domestic violence and active shooter situations. Legal Equalizer can be downloaded on the google play store or the apple app store.