A group of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sisters were performing community service along a Pennsylvania highway this past weekend when a questionable interaction with a state trooper left many of them shaken.
This incident is part of a larger series of recent events that have involved police being called or disrupting situations in which black folks are just living their lives.
According to a now-deleted Facebook post by Shawna N. Harrell, Esq., she was cleaning Highway 83 in Harrisburg, PA alongside her sorority sisters on Saturday when a state trooper pulled up behind them and began asking questions.
“We are on the side of the road with your car behind ours with your lights flashing, drawing attention to us in a negative way and all we were trying to do (was) serve the community,” she wrote of the incident.
According to her account, the trooper told them that he was responding to a call, and even asked the women if they were fighting.
“I’ve never seen anyone out here cleaning and I’m responding to a call,” the trooper said.
The ladies shared that they were performing their community service duties. And despite them wearing their sorority paraphernalia and pointing out an “Adopt A Highway” sign with Sigma Gamma Rho written on it, the officer asked each of them for their IDs to do a background check before allowing them to continue. The ladies had even notified the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to inform the department of its project to beautify the highway, according to a statement by Sigma Gamma Rho.
Once done with the IDs the trooper even commended the women for their “great work,” adding that he wished more people would do community service.
But when the ladies pushed back and asked him why he pulled over, there appeared to be discrepancies in his previous statement.
When specifically asked why he needed their IDs when it was abundantly clear that they were performing community service, his response was that they “could have refused” to hand them over. When questioned further, the officer admitted that he had lied about receiving a call, and just stopped to question them on his own accord.
“Do you realize that you have contradicted yourself several times during this conversation?” Harrell said, according to her account. “The fact is, in this day and time of systemic racism, if we didn't humble ourselves and fully cooperate with you, this interaction could have gone another way? You say we didn’t have to give you our IDs but really was it a choice? ...And now you say you wish more people would clean the highway…”
Harrell, who is an attorney, has since filed a formal complaint. The Pennsylvania State Highway Patrol has yet to comment on the incident."We ask that the Pennsylvania State Highway Patrol immediately issue a public apology to the members of the sorority questioned, have a renewed commitment to becoming a part of the community they police through diversity training and attend town hall meetings," Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority said in a statement to ESSENCE.
As for Harrell, she admits that the incident has been exhausting and that it has left her imagining different scenarios of how the incident could have ended.
“I’m tired honestly,” she said. “As an attorney, I have look at this incident from different angles but I can’t shake the 'what if.'"