Under fire for profiling Black customer, U.S. Bank issues public apology

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Twin Citians were stunned last week by a KSTP report entitled “Banking while Black.” The news segment revealed how a bank manager at a Columbia Heights branch not only refused to cash a Black customer’s payroll check but called the police on the man.

The customer, Joe Morrow, had an account with U.S. Bank, and the check was drawn on a U.S. Bank account. The bank manager contended that he had seen imitation checks from Morrow’s workplace UNFI, previously.

But when the bank manager was asked by police if he had called the company to confirm if Morrow worked there, he said he did, but later video revealed that he lied to the police.

“I was being humiliated in front of everybody in the line. When he said, ‘Mr. Morrow your check is fake’ was the worst part,” Morrow recalled. “They called my name and everything. The manager pretended to call [his workplace] and check. They were supposed to check out the check and verify it before calling me out,” Morrow told the MSR.

The episode was a humiliating one for Morrow who not only was wronged by the manager but was treated in a patronizing manner by the Columbia Heights cop who responded to the incident.

The officer placed Morrow in handcuffs before getting all the details: in essence, he was considered guilty automatically—the very root of racial profiling.

Strangely, after things were cleared up, the officer thought it important to pull the aggrieved party into a separate room and chastise him for not responding as calmly as the cop thought he should. 

According to Morrow, the officer said, “If you are innocent, you shouldn’t be acting like you are guilty.” Morrow said the cop told him that “Being angry made me look guilty.” The officer did not address the bank manager’s behavior, however.

“How are they going to kick around a poor, working-class man who was just trying to cash his check?” asked civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong.

Levy Armstrong and her organization the Racial Justice Network (RJN) reached out to U.S Bank to express outrage over the incident and on Thursday, issued demands for accountability.

“U.S. Bank prides itself on valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet it failed to uphold those values in its interactions with a Black customer who was simply trying to gain access to his hard-earned money,” said Sonja Western, a teacher and member of the RJN.

After initially denying any wrongdoing, U.S. Bank acknowledged that the situation could have been handled better.

On Friday afternoon, Andy Cerere, president and CEO of U.S. Bancorp, issued the following statement addressed to the Minneapolis community:

“I am deeply sorry for where we failed and accept full responsibility. Our commitment to racial equity and inclusion, and that of U.S. Bank, is unwavering.
“What Mr. Morrow experienced is not the experience any customer should have. All of our employees, including executive management, are required to complete two levels of unconscious bias training, in addition to other training to prevent bias and negative customer experiences. Sometimes, unfortunately, we don’t live up to our goals.
“We are revisiting and expanding our employee training and guidance on how to work with customers in a more empathetic manner, recognizing the need to be culturally sensitive. We’re dedicated to fair and responsible banking practices and have policies in place designed to help ensure all customers are treated fairly and with respect.
“While we are not perfect, improving racial equity has been an area of intense focus for U.S. Bank, including donating our branch at 2800 Lake Street in Minneapolis for community redevelopment, helping close the homeownership gap by hiring more Black loan officers and appraisers, and supporting the growth and expansion of small businesses in the Black community.
“We are listening to the community. We live and work in and learning from them. In the case of Mr. Morrow, we fell short and I apologize on behalf of the bank. We will continue to listen and learn from the community as we expand our efforts to advance the cause of equality for all.”

It’s not clear what kind of discipline was handed down to the manager involved in the incident, but a source told the MSR that he has not been seen at work lately.

“After it got cleared up, the manager said whatever happens to me happens—so he knew he was wrong,” Morrow told the MSR. “[The manager] told me that if I had trouble with my check again to come see him.”

Morrow has retained counsel and has not at this moment accepted an offer from the bank.

The MSR will continue to follow this story as it develops.