A story about a women’s lacrosse team from an HBCU has become national news because America wants to keep acting like police officers who abuse their power to mistreat Black people is an outlier and not the norm.
Last month, Delaware State’s majority Black women’s lacrosse team had their bus pulled over and searched. Almost everyone on the bus was Black. The police officers were white. The location was Georgia. This is a recipe for a racist disaster.
What unfolded was a microcosm of race, policing, and the discriminatory stigmas around marijuana use in this country. The gist of the story is that a group of Black people were on a bus in a state that has a long history of reminding us how much they don’t like Black people. A very “convenient” reason — driving in the wrong lane — was used as to why the bus was stopped, which led to a search that was unnecessary at best and dehumanizing at worst. And now people, politicians, the press, and members of academia are wondering how could this happen as if people of that gender and race haven’t been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment from the ones that are supposed to “protect and serve” us since… forever.
“If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now because if we find it, guess what? We’re not going to be able to help you,” one of the officers says in the video of the incident. “Marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.”
You see that last part, about marijuana? Yeah, this is why Black and Brown people are so pissed off about how acceptable and “cool” it is to smoke, sell, or openly discuss weed and cannabis. Because in the past when we smoked or sold it, we were looked down on, got arrested for it, or were viewed in a negative light. But now, having conversations about edibles, pre-rolls, and which dispensary is your favorite are acceptable given that cannabis sales reached over $17 billion last year, for an industry that’s almost exclusively operated by white people.
Marijuana is a remedy when you’re white. It’s a drug if you’re Black.
Those officers weren’t out there “doing good police work.” They were pulling over a bus full of Black people and searching for weed with their drug-sniffing dog because that’s their usual procedure for folks that “fit the description” to them, especially since the incident occurred on 4/20.
“The stereotype with marijuana is that’s something predominantly African-Americans do. With our players, there’s no chance they would do that, let alone bring it on a trip when we’re playing lacrosse games,” DSU lacrosse coach Pamella Jenkins told ESPN.
And to make matters worse, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman is the first Black sheriff in the history of that county. But yet, he’s a shining example of how problematic the system is when a man with that much power will pick the color of his uniform over the color of his own people, as he dared to tell the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that race wasn’t a factor.
“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputies were not aware that this school was historically Black or aware of the race or the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and tint of the windows,” Bowman said during a recent public address.
“As a veteran, a former Georgia state trooper and the sheriff for this department, I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling or encourage racial profiling.”
Bowman then dared to say that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched” — which we now know is a lie, given that footage from the officer’s body cameras proves otherwise. But, this is how law enforcement works. Blue is the only color that matters to them, as it has been proven that they will do and say whatever is necessary to cover for each other.
But, beyond what happened on that bus last month, where it happened and who it happened to are also peril to this story, as everyone at that moment affiliated with Delaware State learned a valuable geography lesson, because despite what you think — Georgia is not Atlanta.
In a moment in which HBCUs are being highlighted and celebrated, the fact that this situation happened to a Black team from a Black school that plays what many would call a “white sport,” is just another example of how race is ingrained into so many parts of society. Because even as HBCUs are receiving this long-overdue attention and appreciation, all anyone is talking about when it comes to Delaware State is how they’ve been victimized instead of the great work that’s been accomplished on the campus, like how they recently acquired a neighboring predominately white institution. But yet, that’s being overshadowed by the actions of some white people in a year in which multiple HBCU campuses have dealt with repeated bomb threats.
“One of the Caucasian members of the team asked why this was happening,” Jenkins explained to ESPN. “And I told her, ‘Unfortunately, as Black people, this is what happens to us.”
Only in America can a white person attend a university that was created for Black people because white people didn’t want Black people at their schools, and believe that their skin color could shield them from the things that Black people — and their teammates — are forced to endure. But on April 20th, everyone on that trip was reminded of just how daunting bus rides for Black people can still be in the south.
“[A] majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them,” wrote Sydney Anderson, a DSU sophomore lacrosse player, in the school’s student newspaper, The Hornet.
At its core, going to college is less about what you learn in class and more about what you learn about yourself through interactions with others. It’s the beginning steps of adulthood as college introduces students to a whole new world. And on HBCU campuses, that world is one where Black people are cherished, championed, and celebrated because we know that it will rarely happen outside of those walls.
But, on a bus trip last month, Delaware State’s women’s lacrosse team learned another important lesson. That no matter how “white” the sport you play may be to some, or the fact that going to school makes you “one of the good ones,” the color of your skin will always make you a target to some, which sometimes leads to a ridiculous, racist, and unnecessary search of your personal items all in the name of “police work.” And for all those that think this incident was some type of “misunderstanding,” I’m here to inform you that the bus driver was never issued a citation during the initial stop.