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Black Guy Stuck In Racism Infinity Loop When Bank Won't Deposit His Discrimination Settlement Checks

Post-Racial America

Sauntore Thomas

It seems that a black man can't deposit his settlement checks from a racial discrimination suit without experiencing more racial discrimination. Sauntore Thomas opened the Russian nesting doll of racism at a Michigan bank that assumed his checks were funny money and sicced the cops on him.

Thomas sued TCF Bank for alleged race discrimination Wednesday (presumably, his third racial discrimination suit will be free). He claims the Livonia branch "mistreated and humiliated him." The bank instigated a fraud investigation and called in four police officers all because he was trying to deposit legitimate checks, which is usually standard bank activity.

TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg insisted that his employer "abhors racism" and that race wasn't a factor in its response. No, the checks simply had a watermark stating VOID when they were scanned in a web viewer, so the bank had no choice but to release the hounds. Thomas countered that the checks cleared at another bank just 12 hours later. He was a TCF account holder for two years, so he wasn't thrilled when two officers grilled him while two others stood guard outside.


THOMAS: I didn't deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent. I'm a United States veteran. I have an honorable discharge from the Air Force. They discriminated against me because I'm black. None of this would have happened if I were white.

Thomas's lawyer, Deborah Gordon, tried to explain that the checks were authentic, but the bank wouldn't listen to her, either.

GORDON: I got on the phone with the bank. I sent them my federal court complaint, to see that it matched. I did everything ... They could have just called the bank that issued the check, and they apparently didn't do anything because it would have all been verified immediately.

Thomas tried to deposit three checks from his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit. They were in the sums of $59,000, $27,000, and $13,000, which are all dollar amounts. Wennerberg said the bank couldn't find anyone at Enterprise to verify the checks, which is not the same as the bank learning they were fraudulent. But, wait, Thomas made a "highly, highly unusual request." (Yes, that's two "highlys")

Wennerberg claims Thomas wanted to deposit the two larger checks in his account, which only had a balance of 52 cents. That's probably why he tried to put more money into the account. It's not high finance. Thomas wanted the $13,000 in cash, and it's his business if he wanted to go full mack daddy for a while. The bank informed him the funds would remain on hold for a couple days, and that's when Thomas whipped out an AK-47 and started shooting up the place. No, wait, he didn't do that all. He said "fine" and asked for a new debit card because his old one wasn't working. That is what Wennerberg considers "unusual."

The bank insists that it's a "diverse" organization that didn't treat Thomas any differently because of his race. Wennerberg added that the branch's assistant manager, Erika Mack, is also black, which he believes is relevant because he has no idea how institutional racism works.

Mack met with Thomas when he arrived at the bank and was immediately suspicious of him. She said the bank's computerized "verification system" was down and she'd have to "call in the checks" herself. She then asked, "How did you get this money?" It's unclear if she expected him to say, "From crime. I got the money from crime." He indulged her and told it was from a lawsuit settlement. That should've given her a clue not to fuck around with him, but instead she called the cops and deliberately stalled him until they arrived. Even after Thomas spoke with the police, explained the situation, and called his lawyer, the bank refused to deposit the checks and filed a police report against him for check fraud. If Thomas was actually a crook, he would've had the sense to hire some Taylor Swift-looking lady to perform the transaction for him. She could've convinced the bank to deposit a cocktail napkin.

The New York Times published an article this past December about how the banking industry collectively treats black people like runny crap. Black employees are also viewed with suspicion and subject to their white managers' prejudices. Ricardo Peters, a former financial adviser at JPMorgan Chase, recorded conversations with one of his bosses that were "very special episode" of "Growing Pains" racist. Peters was marginalized and eventually fired. The corporate cold freeze that black people know all too well. It's infuriating to see Wennerberg use Mack as a human shield against racism, as if she were fully empowered to defy a corporate culture. Unlike those "very special episodes" of 1980s sitcoms, racism is rarely just one bad manager or store clerk. Racism is literally an institution, a system.

Thomas closed his TCF account that day and opened one at a Chase bank in Detroit. His checks were deposited without incident. Thomas previously had no car and walked to work, so his first big splurge was a 2004 Dodge Durango.

THOMAS: I knew that if I would have gotten loud, they would have had me on the ground for disturbance of the peace. But I didn't get loud. I didn't get confrontation. I did nothing. I had a very long journey and I feel like I have to go through the same thing again. It's frustrating, but I do know God is in control. I will be vindicated because I didn't do anything wrong.

Minorities continue to have lousy experiences with banks. Two year ago, Florida Wells Fargo accused an elderly black woman of forgery when she tried to cash a $140 check. The bank staff called the cops and wouldn't return her passport and driver's license. Last September, employees at a Georgia bank called the police when a black doctor tried to open a bank account. He was trying to give them money!

The problem isn't isolated to the US. Armstrong Victor filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2018 for racial discrimination against National Bank. Security guards at a local branch had followed Victor to his place of business and detained him in front of his coworkers. They claimed without evidence that he'd stolen a single bank stamp.

Just a few weeks ago, a First Nations man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were cuffed outside a Vancouver, Canada, bank when he tried to open an account for her. A sweet moment turned into an advertisement for what's called "commercial racial profiling." There's an immediate assumption of guilt whenever a person of color attempts to make a transaction that the bank finds "suspicious."

Thomas's suit against TCF Bank is underway, and let's hope Thomas can afford to buy at least three Dodge Durangos with the proceeds from his next settlement.

[Detroit Free Press / New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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