Delaware State University students received training on possible racial profiling and questionable law enforcement practices, using a charter bus as a classroom cruising around Georgia.
It’s sure to be a lesson they’ll remember for a long time, but its occurrence has raised eyebrows far beyond the DSU campus in Dover.
The women’s lacrosse team traveled north on April 20 on I-95 in Liberty County, Georgia, southwest of Savannah. The Hornets returned home after playing their last game of the season at Stetson University in Deland, Fla. on April 19.
Bus driver Tim Jones was initially told he was improperly driving in the left lane when the bus was stopped, according to DSU student newspaper The Hornet Newspaper and its website thehornetonline.com. The incident was first described there in a story published Friday and written by Sydney Anderson, a sophomore lacrosse player who was on the bus.
The video that accompanies DSU player Saniya Craft’s story shows an officer saying, “If you have something in your luggage, we’ll probably find it, okay? I’m not looking for a bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure your chaperones will probably be disappointed when we find some.”
By that time, deputies from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office had begun removing players’ bags from the vehicle’s trunk for a search, after asking Jones to open it. The police had a drug sniffer dog at the scene.
The deputies knew that those on board were on a lacrosse team.
“If there’s anything suspicious there,” said the deputy on the bus, “please tell me now, because if we find it, you know what? We won’t be able to help you.”
Law enforcement personnel on and off 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.
DSU President Tony Allen informed the university community of the incident in a letter early Monday. In it, Allen said the DSU had briefed Delaware Governor John Carney, the Attorney General’s office, the Delaware congressional delegation and the Congressional Black Caucus of the incident.
“You are outraged like me,” Allen wrote. “We have also contacted the Georgia Law Enforcement and are reviewing avenues of legal remedies – legal and otherwise – available to our student athletes, our coaches and the university.”
Delaware State coach Pamella Jenkins called Monday’s incident “very traumatizing” and credited team members for staying “calm.”
When team members saw their luggage removed before a deputy had started his explanation, they were stunned, Jenkins said.
“The exciting thing was taking blame on her [deputies’] Names,” Jenkins said. “That upset me so much because I trust my girls.”
“One of my gym students asked her, ‘How did we go from a routine traffic stop to having drug dogs searching our stuff?’ ‘ Jenkins said. “The police officer said that there are many buses smuggling people and drugs on this stretch of highway, and they must be diligent.” ”
Governor Carney released a statement 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 occur with sad regularity in communities across the country. It’s especially hard when it affects our own community.”
When contacted Monday morning, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said it would have an explanation by the end of the day, but nothing was provided.
Allen also wrote in bold in his email to the DSU community: “We do not intend to let this or any other incident of this nature pass idly by. We are willing to go where the evidence takes us. we have videos We have allies. Perhaps more importantly, we have the courage to stand up for our beliefs.”
Hornets, a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, had also played at Kennesaw State in Georgia on April 16 and Jacksonville University in Florida on April 18.
During the stop, the officer told bus drivers that “marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.” He then mentioned “anything you can put marijuana in” to smoke it, or devices used to weigh it “like a scale,” suggesting they were also illegal without actually saying so.
The bus was held up for 30 to 45 minutes, Jenkins said. At one point, a congressman got on the bus with a gift wrap and called out the person whose name was on it — senior citizen Aniya Aiken, who happens to be from Decatur, Georgia.
Aiken was asked where she received the package, Jenkins said. It was from family members who had seen the team play at Kennesaw State. When asked what was inside, Aiken said her aunt told her not to open the gift until she was back on campus.
“He said, ‘You’ve accepted something and you don’t know what it is?’ ‘ Jenkins said, and the deputy was again told it was a gift to be opened later.
The deputy returned to the hold with the gift, which was then opened.
“Maybe another 10 minutes later, they’ll get on the bus and say, ‘You can go, have a good trip,'” Jenkins said.
The driver did not receive a summons.
When Aiken later picked up her gift, she found a jewelry box that was a graduation present.
“To be clear,” Allen wrote, “nothing illegal was uncovered in this search, and all of our coaches and student-athletes behaved with dignity during a grueling and humiliating process.”
In a joint statement, US Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware and US Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester called the situation “deeply concerning”.
“No one should feel unsafe or humiliated by law enforcement or others who have sworn to protect and serve them,” the statement said. “This is especially true for students who have sought HBCUs like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color that have too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity.”
Delaware State induction practices will be held Saturday morning at Alumni Stadium. Among the speakers is former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is expected to address the incident.
The episode comes during a year in which the state of Delaware and other historically black colleges and universities have repeatedly fallen victim to bomb threats.
“None of us should have missed,” Allen wrote, “how thin the line is between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between the commonplace and the extraordinary, between the safe and the bullied. This is true of all of us, but especially true of communities of color and the institutions that serve them. The resulting feelings of disempowerment are always the object of the aggressors.”
Have an idea for a compelling local sports story, or is there an issue that deserves public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com and follow @kevintresolini on Twitter. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.