The governor of Delaware and state lawmakers have condemned law enforcement in Georgia over its handling of an alleged traffic violation that led to a search for cannabis and other illicit substances.
Delaware State University’s lacrosse team were heading home on their bus after a match, with students claiming they were targeted because the driver and many of the players are black.
After a thorough search of the bus and personal belongings with the assistance of a drug-sniffing canine, police found nothing illegal. Echoing the students’ claims, criminal justice advocates responded by saying the incident is another example of racial profiling whereby drugs are used a pretext for searches without probable cause.
The incident has now received attention from media outlets nationwide, prompting Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) to describe the police officers’ behavior as “upsetting, concerning, and disappointing.”
“Moments like these should be relegated to part of our country’s complicated history, but they continue to occur with sad regularity in communities across our country,” Carney said, though he is one of the few Democratic governors in the country that’s opposed to recreational marijuana legalization. “It’s especially hard when it impacts our own community.”
Incidentally, the traffic stop and search took place on 4/20, the unofficial cannabis holiday.
Meanwhile, Delaware lawmakers are hard at work on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, with advocates stating the reform to Delaware’s cannabis laws is necessary to limit racial disparities in law enforcement.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the measure, one activist highlighted the Georgia incident as one example of why the reform is necessary. The committee then advanced the House-approved legislation.
Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network executive director Zoe Patchel said incidents like these happen “every single day here in the state of Delaware—over 13 times a day and over 100 times a week on average, just for simple cannabis possession events.”
“Prohibition comes with a devastating and inexcusable human and economic cost, and it’s a significant waste of taxpayers dollars as well as law enforcement time and resources,” she added.
US Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Chris Coons (D-DE) as well as Rep. Lisa Blunt (D-DE) issued a statement calling out the search and offering support to the affected students.
“No one should be made to feel unsafe or humiliated by law enforcement or any entity who has sworn to protect and serve them,” they said. “That’s especially true for students who have sought out [Historically Black colleges and universities] like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color that have far too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity.”
“Our offices stand ready to assist the Delaware State community however we can as it deals with the impact of this episode, and hope there will be a swift, just resolution,” the lawmakers said.
Delaware State University President Tony Allen also weighed in on the search, and said that the student athletes and staff had “comported themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process.”
“It should not be lost on any of us how thin any day’s line is between customary and extraordinary, between humdrum and exception, between safe and victimized,” Allen said. “That is true for us all but particularly so for communities of color and the institutions who serve them. The resultant feeling of disempowerment are always the aggressors’ object.”