Davidson College alum creates Legal Equalizer app
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It was a personal experience that led to an app that’s used by 375,000 people.
Mbye Njie says he wants to hold people accountable.
It’s why the Davidson College alum launched Legal Equalizer in 2015.
It’s a live camera and alert system people can use when they’re stopped by law enforcement.
Njie says it isn’t just for drivers. It protects police, too.
It’s that kind of thinking that earned him Davidson’s inaugural “Innovator in Residence” title.
The college is giving him a $75,000 grant to grow his business and hire two Davidson students.
He’ll spend the next year mentoring students to find innovative solutions to problems.
Jamie Boll talked to Njie about the inspiration behind his business.
Mbye: The idea came about after Ferguson happened in 2014. I grew up in Macon, Georgia. I went to Inner City High School, probably 85% African American. Then I went to Davidson College - complete opposite. When Ferguson happened, I was looking at my social media and my high school friends were asking, “What did the police officers do to not de-escalate the situation, to escalate the situation?” While my college friends were asking, “What did Mike Brown do to get himself killed?” And so it was total sides. The whole time, asking, “How come nobody had a camera to record it?” Like we had recording devices on our phone already that time. That’s why I just kept on thinking, this would have stopped the whole argument that we had on what happened, he said, she said, if we had video. So that’s when I originally had the idea.
Jamie: And you’ve dealt with this yourself.
Mbye: Yeah, I’ve been stopped, pulled over, talked to about police probably 115, 120 plus times in my life. And actually, that’s part of reason the app even came into fruition. After that Mike Brown thing, three months later, in December 2014, I got stopped three times. I live in Atlanta now. But I got stopped three times in a week and a half in Atlanta. First time was my own neighborhood. The officer stopped me literally only to ask me what I was doing. I showed him my ID, “Oh, you live here, you’re free to go.”
Jamie: I’ve never had that experience. Someone that looks like me, a lot of us, have not had that experience. What’s it like when that’s happening? How afraid are you? I mean, how stressful is it?
Mbye: To this day, I’m afraid when I see a cop car get behind me. I mean, I start sweating. My hands are a little shaky. And I know I’ve done nothing wrong. That’s the funny thing. Every time I drive, I’m like, okay, cool. I’m completely clean. I’ve got my insurance up to date, my license up to date, no outstanding warrants, no tickets, nothing. And I’m still just nervous or afraid because you don’t know what could happen.
Jamie: So explain how the app works. You get stopped and what? You just open up the app?
Mbye: Yep. So you get stopped, you can open it up by voice or you can just open it up. When you first log on, it asks you for your contacts and we ask you to pick five-plus people that are trusted family members, friends that you know would answer your calls in an emergency. So when you open up now you hit that text message, it says “Help”. And it says “I need help for…” and it’s got police stop, domestic violence, immigration, active shooting, or general emergency. So you hit “police stop”, and it tells them, I’ve been stopped by the police, my location is such and such, so it’s getting the location and it gives them a Google pinpoint so they can go there if they want to, and says if you don’t hear from me in the next 30 minutes, please call the department of this area. Then we give the option either record that encounter, or they can hit that live button where now it sends another text to people and as soon as they hit it, they’re now on that live call and they can see what’s going on, the person can see them as well.
Jamie: So audio and video, you choose?
Mbye: Right. We also have laws within the app as well. So we have laws for all 50 states from gun laws, reckless driving, marijuana, DUI laws. We’re working on more local ordinances. So I’ve got some students from Davidson this summer that are getting Charlotte ordinances, so why people actually get stopped in their local cities and towns, so people can get more informed about that as well.
Jamie: So basically, you’re saying if I get pulled over, and it’s for reason x, I can look up and see what my rights are in this?
Mbye: Yeah, that’s the goal. And also the goal is in the next couple of months, we’re gonna have attorneys as well that you can now call in real-time, and they can join that call and hear exactly why you got stopped.
Jamie: Is that almost your version of body camera?
Mbye: Yup, it is.
Jamie: And for police officers who are hearing this or wonder, are you out to get them, that sort of thing, what would you tell them?
Mbye: I tell them, I’ve got police departments that have endorsed the app. I’ve spoken for police departments for six years now. I didn’t want them to think it was anti-policing. It was pro-accountability. I tell them a couple of things. One, this app is safe for police officers because people are less likely to harm you if their mom or dad or watching them on a live video. And two, if something did happen to you, we also have video now that’s going to help you capture whatever happened. And three, we know people also do make up stories and lie about what happens with police encounters. So if they do that now, it’s not just your body camera, we can also have video that says hey, this person did lie. So, if you’re a great officer who’s doing your job and pulling me over speeding, gives me a ticket and says have a great day, this should be the greatest thing for you. You should be happy, “Hey, Mom, Dad, your son was speeding, I’m giving him a ticket and I want him to slow down. Have a great day.” It’s that simple and that’s all we’re asking for.
Jamie: Are you surprised by the reaction you’ve been getting to this thing?
Mbye: To be honest, it sounds kind of cocky, but no. I knew I had something early on. It was a gut feeling, hey, this needs to keep going on. And every time I wanted to quit, something else would happen and be like here’s new momentum to keep you going.
Jamie: Just goes to show you just need the idea.
Mbye: Yeah, just don’t be afraid to fail. If you put your heart and effort and stay determined, chances are you’ll succeed.
This app has another important purpose.
Mbye says it can be used for domestic abuse victims to alert people to something going on.
“It is for domestic violence, sexual assaults,” Mbye said.
We spoke to some groups of domestic violence survivors, and one of the things they mentioned was that when they are in those situations if they try to make a call or something, it triggers the abuser sometimes because they’re like “You’re calling the police?”
So this is where you can hit a silent button.
Our message for that one is, hey, I’m in a domestic violence situation. If you don’t hear from me the next 60 seconds, call 911. Here’s my address. And you can do that silently were it then sends it to that same group of people.
Mbye’s goal is to get to 1 million downloads by the end of the year.
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