The women’s lacrosse team at Delaware State University, a historically Black university, was heading home last month after it played three games in Florida when Georgia authorities interrupted their journey — with a drug-sniffing dog.
Liberty County sheriff’s deputies pulled the bus over, citing a traffic violation, and then entered the vehicle to inform the team that their luggage would be searched for narcotics. One deputy, speaking to the students before the search, emphasized that marijuana is illegal in Georgia for recreational use.
“If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now,” the officer said in a video recorded by team member Sydney Anderson. “Because if we find it, guess what? We’re not going to be able to help you.”
He said officers would also be looking for “anything that you could put marijuana in,” such as smoking devices or scales that can measure portions. Nothing illegal was found, university President Tony Allen said in a statement Monday.
Anderson, a sophomore, said on Instagram this week that she is “disappointed but not surprised” by the incident and that the team displayed no probable cause for suspicion that any of the members had kept drugs in their luggage.
“Our constitutional rights were violated and justice needs to be served,” Anderson wrote. “Time and time again, racial encounters happen without being formally addressed.”
Officers conducted a 20-minute-long search with the dog, she wrote, before they allowed the team to get back on the road. She recounted in The Hornet Newspaper, the university’s campus news outlet, that the officers tossed underwear and menstrual products as they went through the luggage and that two officers quickly became six.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said at a news conference Tuesday that deputies had stopped several commercial vehicles the morning of the incident and found contraband in another bus. He said deputies were unaware of the race of the vehicle’s occupants.
“At the time, or even the weeks following, we were not aware that this stop was received as a 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.”
In his statement, Allen wrote that he is “incensed” by the encounter and that he is investigating it with Delaware State’s general counsel and athletic director.
“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,” Allen wrote. “That is true for us all but particularly so for communities of color and the institutions who serve them. The resultant feelings of disempowerment are always the aggressors’ object.”
Delaware State is one of five historically Black colleges and universities with lacrosse teams, according to USA Lax Magazine. Members of Howard University’s women’s lacrosse team were verbally assaulted with racial slurs three months ago as they prepared for a game on the campus of Presbyterian College in South Carolina.