Delaware State lacrosse sees ‘underlying racism’ in police search of bus

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The Delaware State lacrosse team still is reeling over a police encounter in Georgia that a player said resulted from “underlying racism.”

First detailed by sophomore player Sydney Anderson in a school publication, The Hornet Newspaper, the team was traveling back to Delaware from a three-game road swing. The team played its season finale at Stetson University on April 19 and began its trip home the next day.

The Hornets were traveling north on I-95 in Liberty County, Georgia, southwest of Savannah, when they were pulled over by police for driving in the wrong left lane.

But two officers from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office soon turned into six and a drug-sniffing dog. They started removing the team’s belongings from the bus compartment to be searched.

One of the officers was captured on tape by Saniya Craft telling the team that they were going to check their belongings for narcotics.

“I’m coming on the bus right now to tell y’all we’re gonna let [inaudible] check y’all’s luggage, OK. If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it,” the officer said in the video. “OK, I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperone is probably gonna be disappointed in you if we find any.

“You guys are on the lacrosse team, correct? So if there is something in there that’s questionable, please tell me now. Because if we find it, guess what: We’re not gonna be able to help you.”

No drugs were found in the search.

“The infuriating thing was the assumption of guilt on their [deputies’] behalf,” head coach Pamella Jenkins told Delaware Online.

The bus was stopped for 30 to 45 minutes, according to Jenkins.

“One of my student-athletes asked them, ‘How did we go from a routine traffic stop to narcotics-sniffing dogs going through our belongings?’” Jenkins said. “The police officer said that on this stretch of highway there are a lot of buses that are smuggling people and narcotics and they have to be diligent.”

One player, Aniya Aiken, was called forward to identify a wrapped graduation gift she received from her aunt during the team’s first game of the road trip. After being told the gift was “suspicious,” she gave officers permission to open it. The package contained a jewelry box.

“The fact of the matter is the underlying racism the Delaware women’s lacrosse team endured,” Anderson wrote in her story on the traffic stop. “The officers tried to get them to admit to having drugs, while there was none in their possession. The officers conducted an unlawful search because there was no probable cause. Majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them.”

Most of those on the bus were Black, although there are some white players on the team who were present.

“One of the Caucasian members of the team asked why this was happening,” Jenkins told Andscape. “And I told her, ‘Unfortunately, as Black people, this is what happens to us.’”

In a statement on Monday, Delaware State University president Tony Allen said he was investigating the incident alongside the university’s general counsel and athletic director.

“To be clear,” Allen wrote, “nothing illegal was discovered in this search, and all of our coaches and student-athletes comported themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney released a statement Monday calling the video of the traffic stop “upsetting, concerning and disappointing.”

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said an investigation into the incident was “ongoing,” Andscape reported. “There was no issue with [this] until today,” the employee who answered Sheriff William Bowman’s phone said.

Sophomore midfielder Mica Lambert told Andscape she wasn’t surprised the incident happened the way that it did, but she was proud of her teammates for their response.

“Say this was Duke and they came on and saw Coach K, do you think they would have been checking our bags with dogs?” Lambert said. “We’re a bus full of girls of color. A Black bus driver. I’m not surprised it went down this way at all. Frustrated, yes, but not surprised.

“You’re upset but you can’t get belligerent, you can’t cuss at the cops, you can’t do a whole lot of stuff. We kept it calm, we didn’t take to social media to blast them. We showed awareness. And I’m proud of my team for that.”