Excerpted with permission from Augsburg University. View the full original article, which was published its Spring-Summer 2021 magazine.
Childhood friends and Augsburg University Master of Business Administration alumni Andre Creighton ’19 MBA and Mychal Frelix ’19 MBA understand the fear of driving while Black and being stopped by police.
They both grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and knew the family of Philando Castile, a Black man who was fatally shot by an officer during a 2016 traffic stop in nearby Falcon Heights.
“The interest in creating change started with Philando Castile. That was the initial gut punch,” Creighton said. “Flash forward to George Floyd in 2020, and it was like ripping off a Band-Aid to a wound that hasn’t healed. We decided we had to do something.”
Creighton, an accountant, and Frelix, who was in sales for Sony Electronics, left their stable day jobs in 2020. They teamed up with attorney Jazz Hampton, who is also an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and the three Black men launched a new company providing a technology-based solution to de-escalate traffic stops by police.
The motto says it all: “Drive with an attorney by your side.”
TurnSignl provides real-time, on-demand legal guidance from attorneys to drivers, all while drivers’ smartphone cameras record the interaction. The mission is to protect drivers’ civil rights, de-escalate roadside interactions with police, and ensure both civilians and officers return home safely at the end of the day.
When Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in April, that only accelerated their pace to bring the app to market. “This has been an issue plaguing Black and brown communities,” Frelix said. “We’re thankful to have the ability and skill sets to get this off the ground.”
They introduced the TurnSignl app in May after they were able to leverage the public awareness of police stops ending tragically to raise more than $1 million to bring the app to market.
While the app is intended for anyone, there is increasing attention to how Black drivers are treated by police.
Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE 11 reported in May that new data shows that the majority of drivers pulled over this year by Minneapolis police for minor equipment violations are Black: Black drivers accounted for more than half of those stops despite making up only about 20% of the city’s residents, according to city data.
In St. Paul, Black drivers were almost four times more likely to be pulled over by police than white drivers, according to a Pioneer Press analysis of data from 2016 to 2020. Asian, Latino, and Native American drivers were stopped at roughly the same rate as white drivers, the Pioneer Press reported.
The TurnSignl app has the potential to make traffic stops safer for police as well as motorists, said Mylan Masson, retired director of the Hennepin Technical College law enforcement program and a former Minneapolis Park Police officer. “Every traffic stop can be dangerous for police officers,” said the police training expert. The TurnSignl app “could give someone a calming sense that, ‘I’m not here alone.’”
Business project for ‘the times we’re in’
As the TurnSignl founders prepared to launch the company, they turned to Augsburg’s MBA program to assist them in developing the business plan.
Students in the MBA program grapple with real-world challenges faced by local businesses via a management consulting project, which supported TurnSignl’s launch. This is just one of the many MBA program experiences in which students collaborate on projects, case studies, presentations, and simulations.
The TurnSignl project represents Augsburg’s goals to be socially conscious, said Mike Heifner ’21 MBA, who worked on the pricing strategy of the TurnSignl business plan. “This was a good example of how capitalism could bring social value to society,” he said.
Augsburg graduate student Stephanie Oliver ’21 MBA hopes the TurnSignl app will open new conversations and foster a different way of thinking about how police and civilians interact during traffic stops.
Oliver’s role in the MBA group was to analyze the research and data about traffic stops nationally by race. What she found was a system with inconsistent reporting about race and traffic stops across states. What was clear was that even after accounting for those inconsistencies, the disparities were apparent in stops involving people of color.
This didn’t surprise Oliver. Her husband is Black and was frequently pulled over when they first moved to their Twin Cities suburb years ago. Once, the police even questioned her then 5-year-old daughter about whether he was actually her father.
She worries about her two young Black sons but is optimistic that the TurnSignl app can start to change the dynamics during a police stop. “I know when my daughter goes to Augsburg this fall, I’m going to get this app for her.”
By Gita Sitaramiah