A Delaware HBCU’s women’s lacrosse team was pulled over while returning from Florida last month by Georgia deputies who, by all indications, had no probable cause and no reason to suspect the team had done anything wrong. Now, police body camera footage of the search has been released and school officials at Delaware State University and Delaware’s attorney general are calling for an investigation into the incident.
From ABC News:
The Delaware State University Women’s Lacrosse Team was returning home from a game in Florida on April 20 when deputies in Liberty County, Georgia, pulled the bus over for an alleged traffic violation.
Deputies then proceeded to conduct a drug search of the team’s bags in the luggage racks beneath the bus, including with the use of a K9, video and body-camera footage from the scene shows. Nothing illegal was found, authorities and school officials said.
The incident came to light after one of the team’s lacrosse players wrote about the search in the school’s newspaper last week with the headline, “Delaware State Women’s Lacrosse Team Felt Racially Profiled by Police in Georgia.”
It really does appear to be just another instance of driving (or, in this case, riding) while Black. The deputies claim they pulled the bus over for a lane violation—but quickly cops going from a minor traffic infraction to, “Hey, while I’m here, I might as well search you for drugs and anything else we might be able to arrest you for” is an all too familiar occurrence for Black people on the road.
“If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it,” a deputy is heard saying in the video. “If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now because if we find it–guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you. We are in the state of Georgia. Marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.”
But how did we even get to marijuana?
“Believe it or not, the majority of the drugs and large amounts of money, trafficking children, trafficking anything up and down these interstates, that’s what we look for,” a deputy told the students on the bus. “We’re not saying that it’s even happening here. But however, this is how we start an investigation.”
Before the deputies even got on the bus, one of them reportedly said: “There’s a bunch of dang school girls on the bus. There’s probably some weed. Maybe.”
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman claimed that everything the deputies did was lawful and followed protocol. He also said there was probable cause for the search because of an alert from the K9, whatever that means. (And at any rate, nothing illegal was found on the bus. So maybe cops shouldn’t be allowed to search a vehicle every time their K9 unit gets a little restless.)
“At the time, or even in the weeks following, we were not aware that this stop was received as racial profiling,” Bowman said. “Although I do not believe any racial profiling took place based on the information I currently have, I welcome feedback from our community on ways that our law enforcement practices can be improved while still maintaining the law.”
But the feedback has already been given and is clear.
Delaware State University President Tony Allen said the videos that were released “clearly show law enforcement members attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.” He also called the incident a “trying and humiliating process” for the team.
“I think the biggest surprise was seeing the dogs immediately pulled out regardless of what the citation was going to be,” said Emily Campanelli, a senior lacrosse player at the university, according to The Hornet Newspaper. “That shows the immediate effects of driving while black, especially through southern states and it makes you wonder how many people this happens to on a daily basis and how many people experience this worse than us.”
Saniya Craft, another team member who happens to be a relative of Elijah McClain, who was killed by Colorado police in 2019, also had something to say about the incident.
“As a family member of Elijah McClain, I’ve realized what happens when police take advantage of their privilege and compromise their job,” Craft said. “After seeing the police brutally murder my relative, I was petrified for what would happen to my teammates and I. As women of color, we are constantly facing adversity and this was an incident we had to overcome together.”
So, there’s your feedback. Now what?
Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings said Wednesday that she alerted the U.S. Department of Justice about the incident “urging a full examination and I have every reason to believe one will occur.”
Unfortunately, sometime all we can do is put injustice on blast and hope for the best.