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The Spartanburg County Sheriff's department addressed accusations of racial profiling Shaw University students after the institution's president questioned their "wrongful stopped and searched" proceedings. Photo: Spartanburg County Sheriff's Dept.

Shaw University President accuses South Carolina sheriffs of racial profiling students on bus trip

South Carolina sheriffs fight back claims of racially profiling Shaw University students earlier this month during a stop and search operation.

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About two weeks ago, Shaw University President Paulette Dillard expressed outrage over 18 students being wrongfully stopped and searched in Spartanburg, South Carolina during a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. 

Dillard believes students were racially profiled by officers using drug-sniffing dogs. “Just a horrible experience all the way around,” said Raleigh- Apex NAACP President Gerald Givens as reported by WRAL News. “The best way to prevent this from happening again is to change the standard of law enforcement officers and the culture that they have within their organization.”

The university president issued a statement at the time: 

“...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. 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.

I will modernize the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with my own, ‘The ultimate measure of a man and woman is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.’

Our students stood tall amid an unnerving and humiliating experience and because of their dignified and professional response, the situation did not escalate into something far more sinister.

So, I am extremely proud of our students and staff and how they responded under very trying circumstances. I am pleased to report they arrived safely in Atlanta to take full advantage of the Center for Financial Advancement Conference, where they actively engaged in sessions about financial literacy and home ownership. And they returned home safely to campus without incident.

We are eternally grateful.

However, I wish to be perfectly clear. The action taken by South Carolina Law Enforcement in Spartanburg County was unfair and unjust. I firmly believe had the bus been occupied by White students, they would not have been detained.

I have 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.”

This prompted five North Carolina members of Congress to send a letter asking the Justice Department to investigate the matter. 

The letter states “At this point, multiple deputies and drug-sniffing dogs searched the belongings of the students and staff in the vehicle. No illicit materials were found, and the students were left unnerved, confused, and humiliated. We are deeply troubled by this unfounded search of Shaw students.” 

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

Now, Spartanburg County Sheriff Church Wright and Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller responded to Shaw University’s president statement from earlier in the month. 

FOX Carolina reports, the driver was pulled over because he was weaving in the lane. The driver granted permission for officers to search the bus and luggage in the bottom with the assistance of K-9 officers. At the time, officers were conducting Operation Rolling Thunder, an operation to remove drugs and other illicit items off Spartanburg County highways. 

“President Dillard said they were searched by blood-thirsty dogs. There was one dog, he was on a leash. Students were never even close to that dog. None of the students were even asked off the bus,” Sheriff Wright said during the press conference as reported by ABC11.

He expressed the search was not racially motivated and that he wishes “racism would die the ugly cruel death it deserves. And if anything we are 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 nothing to do with racism,” Sheriff Wright said.

Sheriff Wright doesn’t  understand why the Shaw University president wrote the letter “the way she wrote it—I have no idea why she won’t come down here [and] look at the video.” 

Spartanburg County Sgt. Terrell Allen said there was no way they could see what ethnicity or race the students were because the bus had tinted windows. 

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