This article was originally published on December 17, 2020.
You know the feeling when you’re putting a bag through security at the airport, and you’re positive you don’t have anything dangerous in your bag, but you’re anxious anyway?
This is the feeling many people have when they’re pulled over by law enforcement. Unfortunately — as we’ve seen time and time again — a routine stop can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation for people of color.
Three Minnesotans are trying to change that.
TurnSignl, founded by Mychal Frelix, Andre Creighton, and Jazz Hampton, is an app that, when opened, starts recording and connects users with a lawyer via phone call when they are pulled over. Users are then guided with real-time, on-demand legal advice throughout the entire scenario.
All lawyers that will answer calls for TurnSignl have been trained in de-escalation. The purpose of this “telelegal” feature — which has yet to be implemented — is to provide users with legal advice on how to speak to law enforcement and keep the situation calm. Ultimately, the purpose of the app is to guide everyone involved in the situation — law enforcement, the person driving, passengers — through the encounter calmly and safely.
“We have an opportunity to bridge this gap in communication,” Hampton, who hails from a technology, business and law background that all intersect perfectly in this new endeavor, said.
There will also be a diverse array of attorneys answering calls, he said. Before co-founding TurnSignl, Hampton was the director of diversity and inclusion at the law firm where he practiced for five years.
“Whether it’s a woman from rural Minnesota or a black attorney from St. Paul, we will have a diversity of people available,” he said.
Hampton, whose brother is a trained law enforcement officer, mentioned that the startup has reached out to local police departments and gained positive feedback from a few. One officer mentioned he wanted people to feel comfortable around him, and if TurnSignl is a way to make that happen, so be it.
“A lot of people are misinformed on the law, and it can create tension in that interaction,” Hampton said. “We’re hoping that person on the phone will help people through this.”
One current concern the startup is working through is how to get the phone call answered at any time. Even if this means having calls answered at 3 a.m., Hampton is confident the lawyers the company is working with will pull through.
“We have so many people who want to help,” he said. “We have had a lot of lawyers who have said, ‘We would love to be a part of this, let us know how we can.’”
After launching the app in Minnesota in early 2021 (mid-January is the current goal), Hampton said they hope to expand to all markets. The team will have to work through differing jurisdiction and laws in each state, but the goal is to be available across the entire country.
“We want to give people that knowledge and comfort, so they don’t get that airport feeling in their chest,” he said.
And while the spark behind the endeavor is undoubtedly the racial biases too often seen during traffic stops, Hampton was adamant about the universal purpose of the app.
“This isn’t a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ app,” Hampton said, of the idea that formed after a civil rights-fueled summer. “We’re here to de-escalate the situation, and we’re here for everyone.”