While returning from playing an away game in Florida, the women’s lacrosse team from one of only three historically Black colleges and universities in the North was pulled over by Georgia deputies for a traffic stop. The coach of the team believes the officers racially profiled the students, asking them to admit to trafficking drugs in their bags before a search was conducted.
According to The Hornet Newspaper, the official newspaper for Delaware State University, on April 20 at 10:31 a.m., the bus carrying student-athletes back to the campus after a stinging 0-25 loss to Jacksonville University was stopped by local deputies on I-95 in Liberty County in south Georgia.
The sheriff’s department says the vehicle was pulled over because driver Tim Jones, a Black man, violated traffic laws when he drove in the left lane — a section of the highway buses are not allowed to use except when the bus or motorcoach is preparing for a left turn or moving to or from an HOV lane.
Witnesses aboard the bus report the officers proclaimed they were doing a drug sweep, searching the young women’s luggage in search of possible narcotics. A video captured by someone on the bus has one officer informing the group of what was about to happen and asking them to tell him if they had drugs or drug paraphernalia in their bags.
The deputy said, “Why I am coming on the bus right now is to tell you, we’re going to check y’all luggage. If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it.”
“I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are going to be disappointed in you if there is something in there that is questionable,” he continued. “Please tell me now because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you.”
He went on to inform the college athletes, who are drug-tested at the coaches’ discretion, about cannabis being illegal in the Peach State and that even scales and tools to smoke marijuana would be problematic for them.
Pamella Jenkins, the head women’s lacrosse coach for the school said, “(The deputy) quickly went to marijuana, which stereotypically is unfortunately associated with African-Americans. That’s the first thing that he went to.”
Jones was asked to open the trunk of the bus for the inspection. The deputies called for support, which included a K-9 dog, as they went through the students’ personal belongings. The players reported the officers rummaged through their items, tossing out underwear and feminine products, as they searched for the narcotics.
None were found.
The bus driver said he believed race played a part in the stop and search.
“I felt that of course, we were in Georgia, there’s some racial issues and there’s racial issues related,” Jones said.
“I really had a problem with them going through our stuff. There’s a bus full of females and it was invasive of them to go through personal items. It was more than what they said about being in the left lane —because they brought dogs.”
For Saniya Craft the incident was a trigger. A relative of Elijah McClain, she told the school newspaper she was “petrified” thinking about what could happen to her and her teammates.
“I’ve realized what happens when police take advantage of their privilege and compromise their job,” she 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.”
Emily Campanelli, a senior lacrosse player, offered her “biggest surprise” was “seeing the dogs.”
“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.”
“I truly believe that it was an illegal search and seizure because there was no probable cause to search the bags, there was no evidence or smell,” Campanelli, who is white, said. “He immediately saw a group of athletic girls’ teams and should have let us continue, but because the majority of the team are Black women it was a different result. It is a sad day we had to encounter, but I’m glad everyone came outside.”
Sheriff William Bowman, who is Black and leads the deputies that searched the team’s bus, said he would be “following the facts” and “if anything is proven wrong, the appropriate actions will be taken.” He did not believe race was a factor but will review the videos of the event.
Jenkins said she wants an apology for the stop from the deputies.
Delaware State President Dr. Tom Allen released a statement expressing his solidarity with the students and staff. He noted the school does not intend to “let this or any other incident like it pass idly by.”
“We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions,” he wrote.
“This past January and February during the spate of bomb threats made against HBCUs, it was made clear then that personal nobility, individual virtue, and communal excellence do not exempt us from oppressive treatment,” he continued.
“As I said in January, we will never be bullied into believing anything other than what we are — Americans, learners, teachers, builders — useful and honorable people ready to soar.”
He concluded, “We shall not be moved.”