TurnSignl co-founder Jazz Hampton knows firsthand what it’s like to be a statistic. As a 31-year-old person of color from Minneapolis, he has been pulled over by police 12 times — and never been given a citation.
He and two friends are working to put an end to violent traffic stops by offering on-the-spot legal counseling to drivers with their new app, which connects drivers with attorneys through a video call service available 24/7.
The goal of TurnSignl is to protect drivers’ civil rights while de-escalating tense roadside interactions, ensuring both drivers and police officers can return home safely.
Hampton’s co-founders, Andre Creighton and Mychal Frelix, grew up knowing Philando Castile’s name. Castile, a Black man, was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop in 2016.
Then, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in 2020, businesses and individuals flooded social media with promises to work toward racial justice. The trio quit their jobs to start designing TurnSignl.
“No one was doing something after the awareness,” Hampton, who has degrees in computer science and law, said. “No one was building something to make these interactions safer.”
Roughly 40 days before the app was ready to launch, Daunte Wright was shot by a Brooklyn Center police officer at a traffic stop. Hampton said he can’t help but wonder if the app would have saved the life of the 20-year-old Black man.
Frequent traffic stops are a reality for Black men in America, and they can often turn violent. In Minneapolis, police are seven times more likely to use force on people of color than their white peers, Hampton said, quoting research by The New York Times.
Anyone can download TurnSignl, which costs $60 a year to use. Those who make less than $40,000 a year can use it at no cost, while the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN provides the service to all Brooklyn Center residents for free.
The app is available in six states: Minnesota, Georgia, California, Tennessee, Florida and Illinois. TurnSignl will connect callers with attorneys who have a knowledge of local law and are certified to work in that state. The attorneys are also trained by an accredited third party on how to de-escalate tense situations.
“You can be the best lawyer in the world, but we want to ensure that you’re also knowing how to de-escalate these interactions and look for markers, both verbal and nonverbal, to know when things are escalating and how to respond appropriately,” Hampton said.
Hampton says usership is driven by three demographic groups, which he calls the three P’s: parents, partners and people of color.
When a mom is handing her 16-year-old the keys, she’s going to feel safer when her daughter or son is out there driving with the TurnSignl app, Hampton said.
“I think it’s really important to know that people just have peace of mind when they’re driving,” he said.
Hampton and his partners hope to have TurnSignl operating in every state in 2023. Hampton said he hopes society changes enough so that one day there will no longer be a need for the app.
“Nothing would make me happier,” he said. Until then, he’ll keep moving forward.
This story was written by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2022 News Reporter Academy high school students. The Academy and its theme of holistic health equity were supported by Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, which connected students with story topics and sources.