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Then-Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), waves goodbye to students at Shaw University alongside Shaw University president Paulette Dillard (L) on September 28, 2020, in Raleigh, North Carolina. | Source: Sara D. Davis / Getty

On October 5, 18 North Carolina HBCU students and two staff members traveling by bus were stopped by sheriff’s deputies in South Carolina, according to the school’s president, who said the bus was stopped over a minor traffic violation. Now, if you’ve ever been young and Black in America and have been pulled over by police for a minor infraction, you likely know what happened next. Cops stopped Black people for something mundane, then decided it was a reasonable opportunity to fish for drugs—you know, just in case.

“Traveling by contract bus, South Carolina Law Enforcement stopped the team in Spartanburg County under the pretext of a minor traffic violation. A couple of officers boarded the bus and asked the driver where he was headed,” Shaw University President Paulette Dillard said in a written statement regarding the incident. “Multiple sheriff deputies and drug-sniffing dogs searched the suitcases of the students and staff located in the luggage racks beneath the bus.

“In a word, I am ‘outraged,’” she continued. “This behavior of targeting Black students is unacceptable and will not be ignored nor tolerated. Had the students been White, I doubt this detention and search would have occurred.”

Dillard said the students were traveling to Atlanta to attend the Center for Financial Advancement Conference, “where they actively engaged in sessions about financial literacy and home ownership,” and that, fortunately, they made it to the conference and back home despite deputies feeling the need to make sure the bus full of scholars wasn’t actually a bus full of the real-life cast of New Jack City.  

The whole thing sounds eerily similar to an incident back in April when a Delaware HBCU’s women’s lacrosse team was pulled over while returning by bus from Florida. In both cases deputies accompanied by canine units went on drug fishing expeditions despite having no earthly reason to suspect there were drugs on board. No drugs were found during either stop. And in both cases, the explanation given by police officials was generally: “Oh come on, we do this all the time. And once in a while, we even find drugs!”

“Without any conversation the dog can walk around in any free area and if that dog alerts to it, then it’s probable cause to search the vehicle,” Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone, who said he wasn’t familiar with the Shaw University incident, told WRAL. “Are we going to open up the trunk and let the dog walk? Absolutely not, unless you have consent or probable cause.”

In situations like these, cops always think the question is whether or not the search was legal, rather than whether it was ethical or racist.

From WRAL:

Spartanburg County authorities defended their weeklong operation, which turned out hundreds of traffic citations. It included 144 searches, with 65 searches using dogs.

Here’s the breakdown of the 803 people who received citations.

  • White: 315
  • Black: 308
  • Hispanic: 125
  • Other: 55

Spartanburg County deputies arrested 32 people during the operation.

On Oct. 5 alone, Spartanburg County deputies conducted 47 vehicle searches, 24 K-9 searches, 252 total traffic cases, 67 improper lane changes and 11 commercial motor vehicle inspections.

So, basically Spartanburg County deputies make a habit out of searching vehicles without probable cause, and out of the hundreds of people whose civil rights they arguably violated, only three arrests were made.

It’s also worth mentioning that their own stats show 308 citations for Black people and 315 for white people, which would indicate racial profiling had nothing to do with anything—if not for the fact that Spartanburg County is just over 20 percent Black and just under 70 percent white. 

In her statement, Dillard said that she has “asked our Shaw University General Counsel to investigate this situation as we explore options for recourse— legal and otherwise—available to our students and the university.”


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