Being a Black college student far from home in a small North Carolina town can be challenging.
Mbye Njie understands this challenge well. He and his college friends were pulled over many times for “driving while Black”.
While many people would quit or allow the harassment to go unchecked, Njie and his friend decided to educate themselves on the laws and the Bill of Rights.
One out of 10 times we went off of campus, we would get pulled over. Finally during our sophomore year, my friend and I decided to go to the library and print out a Bill of Rights and laws for the state and county.Mbye Njie, the founder and CEO of Legal Equalizer, an app that helps users know their rights and lets them record and text loved ones during a police encounter.
Today, Njie has developed a way to help other people feel safer and know their rights. After the incident in Ferguson and other deadly encounters for Blacks involving police officers, Njie took his idea of notifying loved ones about being pulled over by cops and evolved it into a business.
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Legal Equalizer is a mobile application that allows you to know your rights, record an encounter with police or an immigration officer or active shooter, and text loved ones. In the near future, Legal Equalizer will provide direct real-time access to attorneys and provide bails bond information.
Moguldom spoke with Njie about how he and friends helped to reduce racial profiling in their college town, the challenges of fundraising and where he hopes to see Legal Equalizer in five years.
Moguldom: Why did you start Legal Equalizer?
Mbye Njie: I started Legal Equalizer in 2014 after the incident in Ferguson, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. It first started out as a morbid idea for me. I was thinking, “Well, if I get pulled over and the cops happened to kill me, I want somebody to have a recording.” I wanted to make sure the media didn’t try and portray me as being argumentative and troublesome and putting the cop in danger.
In December of 2014, I got pulled over three times within a week-and-a-half, and only got one ticket. It was for being at a stop sign for three-and-a-half seconds instead of five. The ticket was the second time I got pulled over and was tossed out in court by the judge. Then the next week on my way to work, I was pulled over by a cop that followed me for two miles. I knew he was about to pull me over because every time I switched lanes; he would get behind me. When he finally did, I asked why he pulled me over. He claimed I had a warrant for my arrest. He asked why I was surprised, and I told him I had been pulled over twice in the past week-and-a-half by his co-workers and none of them told me about it. He tried to make some excuse and then said for his own safety he was handcuffing me and putting me in the back of his car. For the next 30 minutes instead of him calling in about this “warrant,” he’s walking around my car. He finally comes back and tells me I was free to go. I got his info and my mom and I went to the police department to make a complaint. We told them profiling is illegal and they needed to do something about it.
After we graduated, we went back for homecoming and were at a bar. One of the cops there actually said, “Hey, I remember you. We stopped pulling you guys over when we realized you knew your rights. There was no reason to do it anymore.”Mbye Njie, the founder and CEO of Legal Equalizer, an app that helps users know their rights and lets them record and text loved ones during a police encounter.
Moguldom: Wow. What a way to get an idea for a company, fearing your own safety.
Mbye Njie: I knew I needed to do something about it. Basically, I started with the general idea of recording encounters as they happen, because every time I got pulled over, I would always text my mother with the location of where I was pulled over. Then I pulled from my experiences of when I was at Davidson College in North Carolina. During those days, I would make sure people knew their legal rights. The college is in one of those typical southern towns where, on the other side of the railroad tracks, the Black people lived. One out of 10 times we went off of campus, we would get pulled over. We were pulled over at least four to five times for them to search our cars.
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Most of my friends were all really good students and athletes. They would never find anything. It was just a waste of our time. And so finally during our sophomore year, my friend and I decided to go to the library and print out a Bill of Rights and laws for the state of North Carolina and for that county. For the next few times afterward, when they asked to search our car, we told them “absolutely, you can, but the law says we need your sheriff here and we’ll need to see the warrant.” This continued to happen for the next two years in college. It is funny because after we graduated, we went back for homecoming and were at a bar. One of the cops there actually said, “Hey. I remember you. We stopped pulling you guys over when we realized you knew your rights. There was no reason to do it anymore.” Pulling on that experience helped me to realize besides texting loved ones, we needed to add laws and rights to the app too.
Moguldom: What are the features of the app and where can it be found?
Mbye Njie: The app is free and can be found in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. When you sign up, we have you pick up to five people ahead of time, so if you are pulled over, you can hit a button and it sends a text message to those five people with your exact location on a map and what kind of situation you’re in. We started off with police stops, but we also now include updates to loved ones for immigration raids by ICE, domestic violence incidents, general emergencies, and active shooter incidents, which is good for kids at school. Parents can know without the kids having to call. We also have laws for all 50 States and your Bill of Rights.
This started with me, but it is an app for everyone — Caucasians, Asians, anyone who wants to add a layer of security in their life.Mbye Njie, founder and CEO of Legal Equalizer, an app that helps users know their rights and lets them record and text loved ones during a police encounter.
We have what to do if you have a law enforcement encounter. You have the ability to record the encounter. In the near future, users will have the ability to obtain real-time legal consultation and obtain bail bondsmen information. While we hear more about incidents of Blacks being killed by police officers, every race deals with these types of incidents. This started with me, but it is an app for everyone — Caucasians, Asians, anyone who wants to add a layer of security in their life.
Moguldom: This seems like a great social enterprise. How are you monetizing the service?
Mbye Njie: We’re building that part out now, which is why I’ve been trying to get money to finalize this last part. We will be monetizing the platform by providing the attorneys’ accessibility to connect with potential clients, as well as advertising to users. Additionally, users can pay a monthly fee to have access to the legal resources so that they can obtain a discount on services, whether it’s consultations at traffic stops or more detailed legal representation. If you are being detained for longer than 20 minutes, that means you’re probably being arrested. So, access to supporting legal services will make sense for you. I know if I had this when I was in college, I know my mom would have gladly paid a monthly fee to know if I got pulled over or arrested.
Moguldom: What do police officers think about what you’ve created?
Mbye Njie: I have spoken with a police chief. He said he welcomed it. He was confident enough in the training of his officers that he didn’t believe there would be any incidents that were unlawful. When I started, I had a few pro-police people say that what we are building is anti-police. I would tell them, “No. It’s actually pro-police accountability.” We have spoken with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) about what we were building, and they understood and have gotten behind it. At the end of the day, it is not anti-police, it is accountability. Chances are if somebody is going to pull out this app and use it, it will more than likely mean the interaction is going to be safe for the police officer because that user is putting themselves on video as well. In fact, some of the parts we put in the app on what to do when you have a police encounter came from some of them.
Moguldom: Besides participating in Ascend 2020, have you participated in any other accelerator programs or pitch competitions? Have you raised any funds for your company?
Mbye Njie: Yes. We raised money from family and friends and have won a bunch of pitch competitions. So far, we have raised along with my personal money, around $300,000.
If I received $5 from everybody that told me they loved the idea, the platform would be fully built by now. Fundraising has been the biggest challenge. A lot of people think you can’t make money solving social justice issues. You just have to build it out right to make money.Mbye Njie, founder and CEO of Legal Equalizer, an app that helps users know their rights and lets them record and text loved ones during a police encounter.
Moguldom: What have been some of the challenges and notable wins since launching?
Mbye Njie: The biggest challenge has been raising money to build the entire platform I want to build out. I tell people if I received $5 from everybody that told me they loved the idea, the platform would be fully built by now. Fundraising has been the biggest challenge. I’ve gotten a lot of promises, but they have fallen through over and over and over again. That’s been the biggest challenge. The biggest win for me is that I’m still surviving in this field. When I started, there were about six or seven other apps trying to do similar things. Many of them are no longer around. A lot of people think you can’t make money solving social justice issues. They think this is supposed to be a nonprofit organization. You just have to build it out right to make money.
Moguldom: Where do you see Legal Equalizer in five years?
Mbye Njie: I would love to have attorneys in all 50 states using the platform to connect with our users. I want to build out some unique dash cams, think FaceTime for your car and law enforcement issues. When I travel abroad, people are interested in our solution. We think these issues are only big in America. It’s actually a global human rights issue around the world. I would like to see us helping users in Latin America and Africa too.
We think these issues are only big in America. It’s actually a global human rights issue around the world.Mbye Njie, founder and CEO of Legal Equalizer, an app that helps users know their rights and lets them record and text loved ones during a police encounter.