On October 5, 18 student scholars and two staff advisors from historically Black Shaw University were traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend the Center for Financial Advancement Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. 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. Multiple sheriff deputies and drug-sniffing dogs searched the suitcases of the students and staff located in the luggage racks beneath the bus.
Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw University, issued a statement that said: “In a word, I am ‘outraged.’ 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. It’s 2022. However, this scene is reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s — armed police, interrogating innocent Black students, conducting searches without probable cause, and blood-thirsty dogs. It’s hard to imagine.”
In response, the Spartanburg County Sheriff stated at a press conference that police officers stopped the unmarked, “Greyhound-like bus” with tinted windows because it had been swerving. The stop occurred as part of “Operation Rolling Thunder,” the department’s annual weeklong anti-drug campaign in which deputies and officers with agencies from around the state patrol the county’s highways.
Just before Thanksgiving break, the university announced that it had filed an official complaint with the United States Department of Justice to “request for an investigation into Title VI and Civil Rights Violations committed by the Spartanburg County and the Cherokee County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Offices.”
When making the announcement of a formal complaint, Dr. Dillard said: “There is real harm done when individual rights are overlooked, ignored or denied – and when it becomes commonplace to violate the civil liberties of innocent Americans traveling on an Interstate highway. The harmful effects of eroding individual rights under the pretext of law and order are real – and they are rampant all over the country.”