TELLER AT AFFLUENT AREA BANK REFUSES TO ALLOW AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN TO MAKE A WITHDRAWAL BECAUSE HE’S “SUSPICIOUS.”
Bethesda, Maryland – When Matin Dunlap sent Tim McMillan a message with a video link and asked for his help, the retired police Lieutenant wasn’t sure what to expect. Regrettably, Lt. McMillan (Ret.) would discover the 2:55 video uploaded to YouTube, showed yet another example of a disturbingly all too common theme where a person of color is being viewed as a “criminal” or “suspicious” simply because of the color of their skin.
On the morning of January 24, 2018, Matin Dunlap- who lives in Baltimore but commutes to work in Montgomery County - went into TD Bank’s Bethesda branch off Wisconsin Avenue to make a seemingly mundane withdrawal from his account. After giving the bank teller a withdrawal slip and his driver’s license, Matin suddenly found himself being questioned as to what he was doing at the affluent Washington D.C. Beltway area branch. “As soon as he saw I had a Baltimore home address, the teller started asking me why I didn’t go to a branch in Baltimore and what was I doing in Bethesda,” said Matin. “I couldn’t believe it. It felt like the guy was basically telling me, ‘Go back to Baltimore, boy!’”
“The only reason I stopped at that particular branch is that it’s close to where I work – it was simply a matter of convenience,” Matin later told Lt. McMillan. “I was only trying to withdraw $1,000. It wasn’t like I was asking for some huge sum of money," Matin added.
Shocked by how he was being treated, when the bank employee started to interrogate him, Matin began to record the interaction between him and the bank teller on his cell phone. Familiar with his public work advocating civil rights, Matin would end up sending the resulting video to Lt. McMillan in hopes he could make sense of the humiliating experience.
“The fair and equitable treatment of people is something I’m very passionate about,” said Lt. McMillan– who, in 2018, retired from policing to be a full-time civil rights investigator and advocate in Savannah, Georgia. “Because racism and prejudice are such egregious acts, whenever I’m asked to look into an incident, I always try to remain objective and not ended up making something worse than it really might be.
After looking into it, Lt. McMillan found: Mr. Dunlap had a valid account with TD Bank, provided a proper state-issued identification, and had a completely legitimate reason to be at that particular location.
“Clearly, it’s important always to consider that a video doesn’t always show the totality of a situation. However, in this case, there’s very little ambiguity. The employee can clearly be seen and heard suggesting that Mr. Dunlap’s mere presence in the bank is suspicious,” commented Lt. McMillan.
“The Washington D.C. Metro area is one of the most heavily commuted regions in America – second only to New York City. I can’t fathom why the hour’s distance between Baltimore and Bethesda would seem odd to anyone,” McMillan added. “Sadly, after multiple views, I simply cannot find any logical reason why Mr. Dunlap would be considered ‘suspicious.’ - except for the fact he happens to be a black man in a very affluent area with a population that’s 86% white.”
Lt. McMillan (Ret.) – a certified instructor, who teaches courses on unbiased policing and recognized internationally as a law enforcement expert by The Law Enforcement Action Partnership (L.E.A.P.)- offers some analysis of what’s going on in the unsettling encounter with Matin and the bank employee.
“With many troubling examples appearing in the news lately, it feels like incidents of minorities having the police called on them or being racially profiled are occurring more frequently. However, what you’re seeing isn’t really an increase of racial bias in America. Instead, a great number of minorities, especially Black men, would confirm this type of negative perception this is something they’ve endured their entire lives” Lt. McMillan explained.
“People typically picture overt or explicit prejudice when they think of racism. However, when it comes to case’s like Matin’s, what we are seeing is implicit racism,” Lt. McMillan elaborated. “Implicit bias involves unconscious negative perceptions people have based on cultural stereotypes they’re exposed to throughout their lives.” “Whether we realize it or not, we all have implicit biases.”
“When it comes to implicit bias and race, there are a wealth of empirical studies demonstrating, as a society, Americans perceive Black men as being more dangerous, suspicious, or involved in criminal activity to a significantly higher degree than other people. There are a host of historical and cultural reasons why the negative implicit bias against Black men exists in America; all of which stem from erroneous and immoral reasons,” Lt. McMillan added. “Ultimately, just like explicit racism, implicit prejudice destructively dehumanizes people as individuals – it’s just harder to deal with because it involves beliefs that arise from our unconscious.”
When it comes to his January 24th encounter, ultimately Matin Dunlap was refused his withdrawal on the basis it was “suspicious” and told to leave the bank. Ironically, after leaving the Wisconsin Avenue branch, Matin went to another Bethesda TD Bank branch less than three miles away, where he was able to make a withdrawal with no problem. “The fact he was able to complete his withdrawal at another TD Bank branch immediately, basically just around the corner, demonstrates there wasn’t anything suspicious about Mr. Dunlap,” said Lt. McMillan. “The ‘suspicion’ came from one bank employee’s own racial bias.”
TD Bank is a U.S. national bank subsidiary of the Canadian multinational Toronto-Dominion Bank. It has over 1,300 branch locations, primarily operating across the East Coast. Matin Dunlap complained to the bank manager of the Wisconsin Ave branch about his encounter. He was told it would be looked into, however, so far no one from TD Bank has gotten back in contact with him. Lt. Tim McMillan reached out to national media representatives of TD Bank for comment, however, the financial institution has yet to responded to his request.