A Davidson College premier “Innovator in Residence” position, backed by a $ 75,000 grant, is helping Mbye Njie develop her smartphone app that promotes police accountability.
Njie is the creator of Legal Equalizer, an app that allows users to record audio and video interactions during encounters with law enforcement. With the push of a button, linked contacts are notified by SMS with a message and the location of the stop. The app also offers laws from all 50 states to help users know their rights and step-by-step guides on how to deal with various encounters with police, from traffic stops to immigration.
So far, the app has over 250,000 registered users and over 350,000 downloads through iOS and Android app stores. That’s significant growth over the past six months, Njie said.
The Davidson 2004 alumnus returned to his alma mater last month to begin the year-long innovator role in residency at the school’s Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In addition to hiring Davidson students to join his work, Njie says a portion of the $ 75,000 will help develop a feature in Legal Equalizer where lawyers can register and people can call them for a consultation. legal in real time.
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The creation of the post was a specific recommendation in response to a report released last summer by the Davidson Commission on Race and Slavery. The group – chaired by alumnus Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte and US secretary of transportation – is made up of students, faculty, administrators and alumni guiding initiatives that investigate and recognize the history of the college in matters of slavery and race.
Liz Brigham, executive director of Hurt Hub, said Njie beat three other candidates to achieve the goal of bringing in a Davidson alumnus who has a for-profit business focused on social justice issues.
He first conceptualized the idea in 2014 when protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. Njie also thought about his own experiences with the police.
A native of Gambia who grew up in Macon, Georgia, Njie remembers being continually arrested by police while a student at Davidson. He was so frustrated in his sophomore year that he went to the library with one of his best friends and printed the laws of the state of North Carolina. They highlighted specific laws in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Rowan and other counties surrounding the city of Davidson.
Black adults, especially black men, are about five times more likely than white adults to say they have been wrongfully arrested by police because of their race or ethnicity, according to the Pew Research Center.
“The next three or four times when they stopped us, we literally pulled out the book and said, ‘Of course you can search our vehicle. But here it says we need a search warrant and we need your sheriff here, ”he recalls. “They stopped arresting us. From my second year to my senior year, they didn’t bother us at all.
There was also the period at the end of 2014 when he was arrested three times in 10 days. Njie said he filed a complaint for the third time after an officer handcuffed him and put him in the back of a police car, citing an arrest warrant. However, the officer released him 20 minutes later.
“I literally built the app just to have something where, A, if I’m stopped my mom can know exactly where I am,” he said. “And B, I don’t want to be on the news with people saying ‘What did he do?’ I want them to see a video that shows me saying “Yes, ma’am”, “No, ma’am”, “Yes, sir”, “No, sir” and following the rules or the things they tell me to. do.”
Although Njie has yet to contact the Mecklenburg County Police Department, he says he has received feedback from other services across the country. He explained that the app is about accountability and transparency, not to promote anti-police or to say the majority of officers are bad.
“I explained to them that having a live video is actually going to make the situation safer for the officer as well,” he noted. “They understand it.”
Beyond interactions with the police, a new component of Legal Equalizer allows users to alert authorities to school shootings and victims of domestic violence to discreetly notify their related contacts to call for help.
Njie started the business over seven years, spending over $ 420,000 to develop the app. The Innovator-in-Residence grant is the second largest individual amount he has received – seed accelerator TechStars had previously invested in the company. However, Njie says this is the first year his team has received enough funds to work there full time.
Then, Njie said, there will be a crowdfunding campaign where others can invest in Legal Equalizer to become financial partners of the company.