On Oct 5th, eighteen Shaw University students became the subject of a stop-and-search operation in South Carolina while riding a charter bus on their trip to Atlanta. While en route, South Carolina Law Enforcement initially stopped the bus for a minor traffic violation but ended in a suitcase scavenge for illegal contraband.
On Monday, bodycam footage was released by both the Spartanbug County and the Cherokee County sheriff’s offices. In the video, you can hear deputies explain to the driver that they pulled over the bus because it was weaving in and out of traffic.
The driver granted the deputies permission to search the luggage compartment under the bus.
A dog then proceed to sniff around the suitcases. No illegal contraband was found at the end of the search.
The stop occurred in Spartanburg County but the search was conducted by Cherokee County deputies as part of Operation Rolling Thunder, an escalated week-long operation by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, along with other agencies, to seize illegal contraband, including narcotics, illegal weapons, and cash, along Interstates 85 and 26. This year’s operation seized almost $1 million in currency.
Shaw University is a historically black college in Raleigh, North Carolina
At a Monday press conference, Spartanburg County sheriff Chuck Wright said the bus was one of 39 pulled over that week.
“This bus was unmarked with tinted windows,” Wright said. “We had no idea and no way to know who or what was on that bus, if anybody was on the bus.”
Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller who was also at the press conference shared, “It’s disheartening to know that when your guys do things right, you still have to get up and defend their actions.”
“We’re not defending what they did, because they didn’t do anything wrong. What we’re having to defend is the racism part.”
“I wish racism would die the ugly, cruel death it deserves,” Wright said. “If anything we’re ever doing is racist, I want to know it, I want to fix it and I want to never let it happen again. But this case right here has absolutely nothing to do with racism.”
Shaw University President, Paulette Dillard expressed her outrage of the incident in a statement.
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.
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.
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. Yet, it happened to the Shaw University community, and it is happening throughout this nation in alarming fashion. It must be stopped.
To be clear, nothing illegal was discovered in this search by South Carolina Law Enforcement officers. The officers said they stopped the bus because it was swerving and issued the driver a warning ticket for “improper lane use.” Throughout this unnerving and potentially dangerous situation, our students and staff conducted themselves calmly and with tremendous restraint
“If my guys see a bus weaving in their lane, and they fail to stop it to check that driver to make sure they’re not too sleepy, then we could have a busload of Shaw students that was involved in a tragic traffic fatality,” Mueller said.
Wright said he had spoken by phone with Dillard and tried to meet with her, giving her the opportunity to watch the bodycam videos. He said Dillard said she had scheduling conflicts, then backed out of a meeting set for Friday.