After playing a series of away games, all an athlete wants to do is get back home; but the women’s lacrosse team from Delaware State University (DSU), an Historically Black College & University (HBCU), realized that it was going to take them longer than anticipated after being racially profiled on their bus that was en route back to Delaware.
The team was in the midst of an almost 14-hour ride home from Florida at the culmination of their season, in what should have been a celebratory moment, when at approximately 10:30am on April 21, Liberty County police in Georgia stopped the bus, with Black driver Tim Jones behind the wheel. According to the Hornet, the student newspaper for DSU, “[t]he officers claimed it was a traffic violation because buses are not permitted to drive in the left lane.” The police then boarded the bus, informing the occupants “that they would be checking their luggage for any possible narcotics, such as marijuana, heroin, methane, and ketamine.”
During the confrontation, players recorded the sequence of events, and DSU President Tony Allen said the videos show “law enforcement members attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.” Even after brining in a K-9 dog, the officers were unable to find any illegal contraband during the search.
On one video, you can hear an officer accusing players, trying to elicit a false confession, “we’re probably going to find it, OK? I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably going to be disappointed in you if we find any.”
The Hornet included a detailed recounting of the entirety of the traffic stop, and tells how the police ordered Jones “to open the bus trunk, as they proceeded to go through the ladies personal belongings. Everyone was confused as to why they were looking through the luggage, when there was no probable cause. The team members were in shock, as they witnessed the officers rambling through their bags…The cops began tossing underwear and other feminine products, in an attempt to locate narcotics. Every time the students turned their heads, more officers appeared at the scene. The cops kept doubling, as they went from two to six officers. They checked bags for 20 minutes, then explained it was necessary, in case of child trafficking or drugs.”
William Bowman, Sheriff of Liberty County, is “the first Black sheriff in the county’s history,” and does not believe that race was a factor in the search. Sheriff Bowman said “[t]his is the same protocol that is expected to be used no matter the race, gender, age or destination of the passenger. No personal items on the bus or persons were searched. I welcome feedback from our community on ways law enforcement practices can be improved,” a local CBS affiliate reports.
As Delaware government officials have become aware of the incident, they have released statements of support. Democratic Governor John Carney said it was “‘upsetting, concerning, and disappointing’…his office would ‘do everything we can.’” Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester called the incident “‘deeply disturbing.’ They said they ‘strongly support’ Mr. Allen’s decision to ‘go wherever the evidence leads.’”
USA Lacrosse chimed in with their support via Twitter, sharing “It’s unimaginable to think the Delaware State women’s lacrosse team had to endure this situation. We are seeking to understand how and why this could have happened and offer our full support to the Delaware State players, coaches and staff.”
DSU President Allen remains “incensed” by the stop, and stated “It should not be lost on any of us how thin any day’s line is between customary and extraordinary, between humdrum and exceptional, between safe and victimized…This is true for all of us but particularly so for communities of color and the institutions who serve them.”