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‘Banking While Black’ In Pacific Beach

 July 26, 2021 at 4:43 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, July 26th. >>>> “Banking while black” in San Diego. More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines… ###### Plans to put protected bike lanes on 30th street in north park are near completion. The lanes have been a hot topic in the neighborhood, with some business owners fearing the loss of street parking will hurt their livelihoods. Lara Worm is the owner of bivouac ciderworks on 30th. “ the businesses are going to survive, they're going to come up with a way to get customers to those businesses. i hope that the city is thinking about them. you know, i hope that the bikers are thinking about them.” Currently the bike lanes stretch one and a half miles from juniper street to polk avenue. In a few months, the city plans on extending them north by another mile to Adams avenue. ######## San Diego congressman Mike Levin has created a bipartisan congressional caucus to explore solutions to nuclear waste stored in 80 locations across the country. Levin says the federal government is responsible for the waste, but the caucus was formed to expedite federal action. Both parties believe the current system of spent nuclear fuel storage is not sustainable, and are working toward finding a permanent repository and interim storage. ######## A male snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo has preliminarily tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Zoo staff made the announcement on Friday. The day before that, wildlife care specialists noticed the snow leopard had a cough and nasal discharge. According to a statement from the zoo, the leopard is doing okay for now, and hasn’t shown any further symptoms beyond a cough and a runny nose. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. A San Diego man says he was the victim of racial discrimination when he tried to cash an insurance check at a local bank -- something known as banking while black. KPBS’s Amita Sharma has more. “We’re not allowed to discuss anything like that so for the privacy of our customers and security. We’re not allowed to discuss anything like that. I can put you in touch with our media contact relations. Is there any photography or videotaping taking place on the bank property? ARe they filming? The entrance. OK, well it’s still considered bank property because you’re filming the bank. From the sidewalk? Because the sidewalk is public property. Yeah, but you’re filming our building. That’s not allowed for the security of the bank. John Pittman III is a lawyer, who also spent 19 years working in the finance industry. He knows the banking business. “....And, you know, they verify. They verify if there's an issue. “ So the San Diego resident was prepared in early 2020 when he went to a Bank of America branch in Pacific Beach to cash a $12,000 check from an insurance settlement. The payment from the Geico insurance company was a BofA check. But just in case, he brought additional paperwork from Geico and three forms of identification -- a driver’s license, passport and birth certificate. Yet, that wasn’t enough for the branch’s assistant manager. “She came back and then she was telling me that she can't cash it because my name had the third on my ID, but the third wasn't written on the check.” But the suffix III on Pittman’s name was written on the rest of the GEICO documents.He suggested the assistant manager contact GEICO to confirm his identity. “And she's like, no, no, no, we can't. We have no way. Even if we call to verify, we have no way to know that we verified. Pittman says he called GEICO on his cellphone, put the insurance representative on speaker phone to address the assistant manager’s concerns. “And this manager says, well, I don't know who you are. You could be just one of his friends he's calling.” Pittman again asked her to call Geico. She refused to make that call, but said she made another. “So she's going to talk to the manager and she comes back and says, we've notified the authorities. So you're trying to steal the money from the real John Pittman.” Pittman says on the advice of the Geico representative he exited the bank but was left with an aching thought. ”.... I'm thinking this would not have happened if I wasn't a black person. I just I just cannot see them calling the police on every person that they get a check that doesn't have junior or a third or whatever, it just doesn’t make sense. Pittman says the BofA branch manager told him more than a year later that the assistant manager was only pretending to call the police. KPBS tried to interview that BofA branch manager but he declined. BofA corporate spokesman Bill Hallidin says it is standard industry practice not to cash a check if the recipient name and identification don’t precisely match to protect against potential fraud. But is it standard industry practice to accuse a customer of stealing and then threaten to call the police as Pittman says BofA did with him? “It's unfortunately not uncommon for us to hear stories of racialized and racist behavior in financial institutions.” Hudson Munoz is a research analyst with the Committee for Better Banks, which represents industry workers and consumers. ”.... It is a problem when the first response at any organization is to involve the police rather than to treat the customer as a truthful person, especially given the materials that this person had to back up the identity. The term advocates use to describe these situations is banking while black. Black customers have long complained of being confronted with skepticism, hurdles and calls to police while seeking basic transactions. Ed Golding is executive director of M-I-T’s Golub Center for Finance and Banking. He says race isn’t likely the only issue in Pittman’s case. The size of the check and the fact that Pittman wasn’t a customer were also factors. But, he says, they don’t excuse the assistant manager’s alleged actions. ”.... It seems like in the facts of this case, it was a very inappropriate way of saying, go away, we don't want to serve you at all.” Bank of America ultimately sent a letter to Pittman standing by its policy. However, the letter also stated: "We regret any inconvenience you may have encountered as a result of this matter and apologize for any service provided that did not meet your expectations." (b-roll of letter - emailed it to you) But Pittman wanted the bank to apologize specifically for the assistant manager’s behavior. He also asked for monetary damages, which the bank refused. He says he still feels demoralized. “It makes you feel it makes you feel two inches tall a little bit, you know, it makes you feel targeted. You know, I didn't stick around for the police to come, you know, but I guess if I had stayed there or the police would show up in the situation, got ugly.” Amita Sharma, KPBS News. And that reporting from KPBS Amita Sharma. ########## coming up.... “there's a lot of good things that came out of that case and a lot of people's lives changed for the better and you know, we got legislation passed in a lot of good things have come. but at the expense of my life, though, at the same time.” A man arrested under a controversial gang law for crimes he had nothing to do with. He was later released and the charges were dropped. We have that story next, just after the break. In the summer of 2014, a swarm of police arrested Aaron Harvey outside Las Vegas. The San Diego native was charged as a test case for a law that had never been used before. The law said someone could be charged with conspiracy for belonging to the same gang as other people who had carried out a series of gang shootings. A judge dismissed the charges against him, but not before he spent seven months in jail. Now, Harvey has graduated from UC Berkeley– KPBS reporter Claire Trageser tells the story of what his last three years have been like. I remember sitting in jail. And a Berkeley commercial came on and I remember telling... His name is Diondre Cooper, we were cellies on the same case and I was like, if they ever let us out of here, I'm going to Berkeley and everybody goes ahhh, you sound stupid, you know? This is Aaron Harvey in November 2018...during his Thanksgiving break from his first semester at UC Berkeley. I interviewed him in the midst of what would be a huge challenge for him--graduating from one of California’s best universities. AARON SOT Sometimes I feel like if I don't graduate from this school, I can never come back to San Diego. You know what I mean? Because it's it's just a lot of pressure. You know, I have to get.. I got a B on my midterm and flipped out, you know, one I've never gotten a B on anything. So I was like I was, you know, that was very humbling. But then at the same time, like, oh, oh, this is going to mess up my GPA, because I have to have high GPA because I got to go to Harvard, you know, for law school. But I'm putting all this pressure. It's like, chill out. It's a midterm. It's a B, relax. KHALID SOT The community in general kind of did place a lot of I don't know if I want to say expectations, but kind of a burden of being successful on him fairly early on That’s Khalid Alexander, a community leader who’s known Harvey for a long time. He says Harvey’s case--which so many people saw as unjustly putting him, plus rapper Brandon Duncan in prison--made the expectations that much higher for a true redemption story. SOT con’t ...He also, as an individual, I think can represent kind of what it's like to be black in this country, what it's like to be an African-American in this country where you do have to work harder. If you do mess up, there's going to be more attention. AARON SOT There's a lot of good things that came out of that case and a lot of people's lives changed for the better and you know, we got legislation passed in a lot of good things have come. But at the expense of my life, though, at the same time, you know, so it's like. Yes, great. We got all these things, but kind of like ruined my life as well, you know, so it's almost like so almost same thing with like Berkeley now. This was over Thanksgiving break, and Harvey said in some ways, it was difficult for him to be around his old neighborhood. Because he felt everyone he was was putting pressure on him. AARON SOT I've had professors tell me, you know, OK, we need to use more academic language. And I challenged her. Well, like, who set the standard for what's academic language like, you know? So you want me to speak white Two years and one pandemic later, and Harvey graduated with a degree in political science. I talked to him again--this time at an outdoor park with ducks around us instead of a studio. I played for him a few of his old clips...about applying to only Ivy League law schools, about having a panic attack over the B on his midterm, and he laughed. AARON SOT Yes, I feel none of that anymore. Now, Harvey does seem lighter--less exhausted, less weighed down, and with some of the ease and carefreeness you’d expect a brand new college graduate to have. He has a young daughter and plans to move out of San Diego for a time, but says he’ll eventually be back to buy a house and raise his family here. AARON SOT I'm just starting to feel just a lot lighter on my feet, more energy. And now that is really giving me the clarity on how or what I'm going to do. Oh. So I think I think I know and again and again, it was guilt and everything else, I was trying to take care of everything else and I wasn't taking care of myself. And now I'm like, now I got to take care of myself. For a longer version of this story, listen to the KPBS Investigates podcast. That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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A lawyer who spent nearly 2 decades in the finance industry claims he was treated with racist behavior at a local bank. He went into the bank hoping to cash an insurance settlement check. He said the bank’s assistant manager not only refused to cash the check, but also accused him of stealing. And, from the KPBS Investigates podcast, the story of Aaron Harvey: a San Diego native who spent seven months in jail, charged with conspiracy for belonging to the same gang as others who carried out a series of gang shootings. A judge eventually dismissed the charges against him and he is now graduating from UC Berkeley.