A college women’s lacrosse team feels traumatized after their charter bus was stopped by police while traveling through Georgia, an incident that infuriated the school’s president.
The Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team was traveling north on I-95 in Liberty County, Georgia, southwest of Savannah, on April 20. The Hornets were returning home after playing their final game of the season at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. on April 19.
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Bus driver Tim Jones was first told he was traveling inappropriately in the left lane when the bus was stopped, according to DSU student publication The Hornet Newspaper and its website thehornetonline.com. The incident was first detailed in an article published Friday and written by Sydney Anderson, a second-year lacrosse player who was on the bus.
The video accompanying the story taken by DSU player Saniya Craft shows an officer saying, “If there’s anything in your luggage, we’re probably going to find it, okay? I’m not looking for some marijuana but I ‘ I’m pretty sure your guys’ chaperones are probably going to be disappointed if we find any.”
By then, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies had begun removing the players’ bags from the vehicle’s cargo hold to search them after asking Jones to open it. Police had a drug-sniffing dog on the scene.
The deputies knew that the people on board were part of a lacrosse team.
In a public address Tuesday afternoon in Hinesville, Georgia — a small southeast town south of Savannah — Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman defended the stoppage.
He said after speaking with deputies and reviewing the video and other facts of the incident, he “does not believe racial profiling took place”.
“Prior to boarding the coach, deputies were unaware that this school was historically black or racially aware or aware of the occupants due to vehicle height and window tint,” Bowman said. .
“As a veteran, former Georgia State Trooper, and sheriff of this department, I do not racially profile, permit racial profiling, or encourage racial profiling.”
Bowman said on Tuesday that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched” – denying accounts of several people on the bus.
Law enforcement personnel inside and outside the bus were white in photos and video accompanying thehornetonline.com account. Most, but not all, of the players and coaches on the bus were black. Bowman is black.
“If there’s anything in there that’s questionable,” said the deputy speaking on the bus, “please tell me now, because if we find it, guess what? We cannot help you.”
DSU President Tony Allen informed the university community of the incident in a letter Monday morning. In it, Allen said the DSU notified Delaware Governor John Carney, the state attorney general’s office, the Delaware congressional delegation, and the Congressional Black Caucus about the incident.
“They, like me, are furious,” Allen wrote. “We have also contacted Georgia law enforcement and are exploring recourse options – legal and otherwise – available to our student-athletes, coaches and the university.”
Delaware State coach Pamella Jenkins called the incident “very traumatic” on Monday and thanked team members for staying “compound.”
When team members saw their luggage removed before a deputy began his explanation, they were stunned, Jenkins said.
“The infuriating thing was the presumption of guilt on behalf of their (MPs),” Jenkins said. “That’s what upset me so much because I trust my daughters.”
“One of my student-athletes asked them, ‘How did we go from routine traffic checks to drug-sniffing dogs going through our things?’ “, said Jenkins. “The policeman said that on this stretch of highway there are a lot of buses passing people and narcotics and they have to be diligent.” “
Governor Carney released a statement on Monday calling the video “upsetting, concerning and disappointing.”
“Moments like these should be relegated to a part of our country’s complicated history,” Carney said, “but they continue to happen with sad regularity in communities across our country. It’s especially difficult when it impacts our own community.”
Contacted Monday morning, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said they would have a statement by the end of the day, but nothing was provided.
In bold, Allen also wrote in his email to the DSU community: “We have no intention of letting this incident or any other such incident pass. We are prepared to go where the evidence leads us. lead. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps most importantly, we have the courage of our convictions.
The Hornets, a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, also played Kennesaw State in Georgia on April 16 and the University of Jacksonville in Florida on April 18.
During the stop, the officer told bus passengers that “marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.” He then mentioned “anything you can put on marijuana” to smoke it or the devices used to weigh it “like a scale”, suggesting that they are also illegal without saying so.
The bus was stopped for 30 to 45 minutes, Jenkins said. At one point, a deputy boarded the bus holding a gift-wrapped box and summoned the person whose name was on it — senior Aniya Aiken, who happens to be from Decatur, Georgia.
Aiken was asked where she received the package, Jenkins said. They were family members who had seen the team play at Kennesaw State. When asked what was inside, Aiken said his aunt told him not to open the gift until he returned to campus.
“He said ‘You agreed to something and you don’t know what it is?’ Jenkins said, and the deputy was told again that it was a present to be opened later.
The deputy returned to the cargo hold with the gift, which was then opened.
“Maybe another 10 minutes after that they get on the bus and they’re like, ‘You’re free to go, have a nice trip,'” Jenkins said.
The driver did not receive a ticket.
When Aiken retrieved her gift later, she found a jewelry box that was a graduation present.
“To be clear,” Allen wrote, “nothing illegal was uncovered in this research, and all of our coaches and student-athletes conducted themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process.”
In a joint statement, U.S. Senators from Delaware Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester called the situation “deeply troubling.”
“No one should feel endangered or humiliated by law enforcement or any entity that has sworn to protect and serve them,” the statement read. “This is especially true for students who have sought out HBCUs like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color who have too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity.”
Delaware State’s commencement drills are held Saturday morning at Alumni Stadium. Among the speakers is former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is expected to speak about the incident.
The episode took place during a year in which the state of Delaware and other historically black colleges and universities repeatedly faced bomb threats.
“None of us should lose sight of,” Allen wrote, “how thin the line is between the usual and the extraordinary, between the mundane and the exceptional, between safety and victimization. C This is true for all of us, but especially for communities of color and the institutions that serve them.The resulting feelings of helplessness are always the object of abusers.
Follow Kevin Tresolini on Twitter @kevintresolini.