As he walked out of the Huntington Bank branch in Brooklyn empty-handed, an officer waiting outside handcuffed him and put him
in the back of a police cruiser.
"I have a customer here -- he's not our customer, actually. He's trying to cash a check and the check is fraudulent. It does not match our records," a bank employee says on a recording of the 911 call obtained by CNN.
For many African Americans, what happened to McCowns in December 2018 is a common experience. Banking while Black is another entry in an ever growing list of people calling the police on African Americans doing everyday things.
No data exists on how prevalent the issue is but such cases have made headlines in recent years. Florida civil rights attorney Yechezkel Rodal said
he gets calls from Black people all over the nation after his client sued a bank two years ago.
Some incidents end in lawsuits or private settlements with the banks -- but many more occur in financial institutions big and small with no repercussions, he said.
In McCowns case, while the bank's staff could not reach his employer to verify the check, he followed protocol and provided two forms of identification and a fingerprint.
The police finally reached his employer and confirmed the check was valid, and let him go. The bank apologized, saying its tellers were being "hyper-vigilant"
after a series of incidents involving fraudulent checks. He later cashed his check at a different Huntington branch with no incidents
"It was highly embarrassing," McCowns said at the time. "The person who made that phone call — that manager, that teller — whoever made that phone call, I feel as though they were judging."