A black man says he was racially profiled at a Huntington Bank branch in Brooklyn, Ohio, outside of Cleveland earlier this month.
Paul McCowns told CBS affiliate WOIO-Cleveland 19 that he tried to cash a paycheck for a little over $1,000 at the bank on December 1st, but the tellers refused to do so despite McCowns providing two forms of ID and a fingerprint. Instead, the tellers questioned him about the check and his employment.
“I had got a new job,” McCowns explained to Cleveland 19. “I worked there for about three weeks.”
After several unsuccessful attempts to contact McCowns’s employer, the tellers told McCowns they would not cash the check. McCowns left the bank without further incident.
The bank employees nevertheless decided to call 9-1-1 and report that McCowns had tried to cash a fraudulent check.
McCowns had no idea the police had been called on him.
“I get in my truck and the squad car pull in front of me and he says get out the car,” McCowns said.
The police handcuffed McCowns and placed him in the back of a police cruiser. Fortunately, the police were able to contact McCowns’s employer after a few minutes, and McCowns was released without any charges.
Huntington Bank released a statement on the incident that reads:
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. McCowns for this extremely unfortunate event. We accept responsibility for contacting the police as well as our own interactions with Mr. McCowns. Anyone who walks into a Huntington branch should feel welcomed. Regrettably, that did not occur in this instance and we are very sorry. We hold ourselves accountable to the highest ethical standards in how we operate, hire and train colleagues, and interact with the communities we have the privilege of serving.”
McCowns cashed his check at a different location the next day.
Anyone who has ever had a bank refuse to cash a check for them because the bank could not verify the check knows that calling the police is not a standard procedure.
As Michael Harriot at The Root points out, the tellers never questioned McCowns identity or that the check was real. They simply told the police that the check “does match our records.” Of course, they did not have any “record” of that specific check or the amount it was written for prior to McCowns presenting it to them. “If they could confirm McCowns’ identity and the check,” Harriot writes, “then they could only have been questioning the amount of the check.”
In other words, the tellers questioned whether or not a young black man was likely to have earned $1,000 during a pay period in America in 2018, so they called the police on him even though they knew—or at least should have known—that calling the police on people of color puts them at an unnecessary and disproportionate risk of harm.
You can watch WOIO-Cleveland 19’s local coverage, including an interview with McCowns, here.
*Featured image: Screenshot from WOIO-Cleveland 19.