Delaware State University is a historic black university, and about 70 percent of team members are black, according to its coach, Pamella Jenkins.
The team bus was on its way back to Delaware from a fight in Florida on the morning of April 20 when Georgia police stopped the bus driver, Ms. Jenkins said in an interview. The driver pulled over and from a highway exit ramp, she said, and an officer came on board and said the bus was driving incorrectly in the left lane.
Within five minutes, she said, one of the student athletes alerted officers who pulled backpacks, team bags and other belongings out from under the bus – for inspection by a drug-sniffing dog. Then two officers got on the bus and announced a drug search in an interaction that Ms. Jenkins, who is black, called “racistly motivated.”
“When he was raising drug dogs, the first thing he went to was marijuana, which is stereotypically associated with African Americans,” Ms. Jenkins said. She added that the officer had an “accusatory tone: He did not ask.”
When a student asked how the routine traffic stop had escalated to a drug search, she said, an officer replied that charter buses on that part of the highway were known to smuggle drugs and people. Though she was nervous and scared, Jenkins said she tried to stay calm as students gathered near the window to look outside and others sat in shock. She said she was worried that a wrong word could ignite the situation.
The university’s student newspaper, The Hornet, published an article about the traffic stop by Sydney Anderson, a member of the team. Ms. Anderson and other team members did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Ms. Anderson wrote in the article that police were trying to get the players to admit they had drugs and she accused them of conducting an illegal search without probable cause. She said that “the majority of the team members had never experienced a meeting with the police, which made this a traumatic event for them.”