The recent racial profile experience of Delaware State University‘s lacrosse team has affected everyone involved differently. One student recently shared what that day was like for her, and how it has impacted her life since. Learn more in the story from Andre Richards at NJ.com.
Nahkaleigh Hayes-Jones has had some time to think about what happened to her and her teammates on a bus ride home from a series of away games her Delaware State University lacrosse team played in Central Florida last month.
As their team’s bus drove along I-95 through Liberty County in Georgia on April 20, a white sheriff’s deputy stopped their Black driver for an alleged moving violation. A cadre of white deputies with a drug-sniffing dog quickly followed.
She recalled the emotionally traumatic event. The officers made threats, rummaged through their clothes and other belongings, and worst, there was the assumption that she and her teammates, competitive athletes who hail from a historically Black university, had drugs on them.
“I just never thought something like this would happen to me,” said the 19-year-old student who is now back home in Manchester for the summer break. “To have to go back to school after something like this and go through final exams was just traumatizing.”
Hayes-Jones, a midfielder and criminal justice major, said the team usually plays cards or video games as they travel between games.
“It’s pretty peaceful on the bus rides,” she said. “We have about three away games per season, so when the bus was pulled over, I was confused considering the driver only used the left lane to pass a vehicle. And it was just like, why are we getting pulled over?”
On the body camera footage of the stop, a deputy says he stopped the commercial bus because the driver passed a vehicle in the left-hand lane. Trucks aren’t allowed in that lane. Then, he clearly explains why the girls’ belongings were searched. “Bunch of dang schoolgirls on the bus … probably some weed.”
Hayes-Jones said cops told them they were searching the bus because a police dog picked up a scent. Deputies told the group they were looking for drugs, like meth and heroin and that if they had marijuana, they should know it’s not legal in Georgia.
Hayes-Jones said what bothered her was that the deputies said they should let him know if they had anything before the search. They should just let them know now and try not to give them any more trouble. “Give them any more trouble, what trouble?”
Only one of the 25 members of the Hornet lacrosse team questioned the deputies’ legal reasons for the search. She says everyone complied, including the driver, two adult coaches and the entire team. They intentionally did not push back so as not to exacerbate the situation.
“For about 45 minutes they took bags off the bus and went through our luggage,” Hayes-Jones remembered. “One officer pulled out my friend’s underwear out of her bag with his finger and threw it on the ground, which is really weird — the whole situation was very disturbing.”
The officers opened a wrapped gift a teammate got from her aunt in Florida. It turned out to be a journal.
During the stop, many of the players called home. Hayes-Jones called her mother, Alesia Hayes.
“I asked her is everything all right?” Hayes said from her home in Ocean County. “She sent me videos of the cop while he was on the bus. And I said, why are cops on the bus? And she said, ‘well, they are searching through our bags.’ And I was like, are you serious? For what? She said because the police dog got a ‘hit’ on the back of the bus. The bus is so high, I was confused because the engine is in the back.”
The discovery netted no drugs or drug paraphernalia.
The driver apologized to the team. He told the student-athletes that the search was wrong and shouldn’t have happened.
Soon after the stop, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman held a press conference. “I do not exercise racial profiling,” Bowman, a Black man, told the media. He also said no personal items on the bus were searched.
Delaware Gov. John Carney has called the stop “upsetting.” Members of Congress have said it was “deeply disturbing.” The university has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. In it, they call the stop, “brazen, illegal, and discriminatory conduct.”
Jasmin Jones recently graduated from Rowan University with a degree in criminal justice. She is also a young Black woman and an athlete.
“I was honestly, really taken aback by the video, I could kind of feel how tense it was, I could really relate to what they were feeling in that moment. I know how scary it is to be in the presence of law enforcement, and especially when they’re accusatory, and you kind of have to be on the defense.”
Jones, chief of staff for The Total Justice Project, a nonprofit organization that investigates police misconduct said the power dynamic between a police officer versus regular citizens is intimidating. She said, “…nothing resulted from the search, but it could have had the potential to really go in a different direction, which is something many young Black people fear.”
Kelly Harris, the director of Africana Studies at Seton Hall University, said this case exemplifies an instance where the police could be telling the truth and are wrong at the same time.
“They could have pulled the bus over for a routine incident. However, because racism is so entrenched in our society, treating Black suspects differently has been normalized — to the point that many police do not recognize their shortcomings,” he said.
“Thinking the worst about Black people, from all walks of life, is the type of thinking that is very much a part of the collective American conscience.”
Nahkaleigh’s mother sees a change in her daughter since the incident.
“She’s very hesitant. She gets kind of paranoid. She’s skeptical of police officers when she sees them now. Afraid they’re going to stop and pull her over, and I have to calm her down. I’m like, ‘you’re not always going to get pulled over now for something stupid.’”
Hayes-Jones isn’t so sure. After what happened to her, she’s questioning if she wants to be a part of a system that treats Black people like this.
“This happened to me. I don’t know; it’s something I’ve never experienced before — I don’t want to experience it again.”