DSU graduation speakers support lacrosse team after traffic stop


The Freedom Riders boarded their first buses in Washington, D.C., in May of 1961. It was the height of Jim Crow, and the interracial group of activists ignored the forced segregation of bus terminals in protest as they journeyed through the upper South.

They faced violence throughout their journey, according to Britannica, and their bus was even fire bombed in Alabama. But eventually they found success, and the segregation of these spaces was outlawed.

Six decades later, former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms shared the history of the Freedom Riders to an overflowing crowd at the Delaware State University undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Then, in her keynote speech, Bottoms compared the Freedom Riders to DSU’s women’s lacrosse team, whose bus was pulled over in Georgia and searched for drugs in what many have called racial profiling.

WHAT HAPPENED:Delaware State, state leaders ‘incensed’ after team bus stopped, searched in Georgia

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms prepares to deliver her address during Delaware State University's 2022 commencement ceremonies in Memorial Hall, Saturday, May 14, 2022. Bottoms focused her talk on the recent women's lacrosse team police stop, making comparisons to the civil rights era freedom riders and telling graduates that their experience might not be as extreme as that generation's but will still involve struggle for equality.

“Some may call it a stretch, but I dare say that each generation has its own cross to bear,” Bottoms said on Saturday morning. “The battle for equality is not the same in 2022 but it is still worth fighting for.”

She retold the incident that took place on her former state’s roadways, quoting the article that DSU sophomore lacrosse player Sydney Anderson “powerfully wrote” for the student-led Hornet Newspaper, published last week.

Bottoms described how the team was on its way back from a match in Florida on April 20 when their bus was stopped by Liberty County police officers, and how what started as a routine stop for an alleged traffic violation escalated into accusations of drug trafficking.

Terron Adlam of Wilmington reacts as his school is recognized during Delaware State University's 2022 commencement ceremonies in Memorial Hall, Saturday, May 14, 2022. Adlam received a degree in biological sciences.

Backup and K-9 units were called in, according to student accounts, and officers spent over 20 minutes inspecting the team’s luggage and searching through players’ personal items. The Liberty County sheriff denied personal items were searched, despite video evidence.

RELATED:Why Delaware, Georgia activists aren’t surprised by traffic stop involving DSU lacrosse team

Activists have drawn attention to the fact that all of the officers involved are white, while most of the student athletes are Black.

“It is my sincere hope that, like the Freedom Riders, you will use … your experiences to empower communities, knowing that today will make the lives of others better tomorrow,” Bottoms said.

Pins supporting the women's lacrosse team were a common sight among graduates and other attendees during Delaware State University's 2022 commencement ceremonies in Memorial Hall, Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Bottoms did not address the decision by DSU administration to not publicly address the incident until after Anderson’s article was published – a decision that “concerned” the Delaware NAACP, which “subscribes to the theorem that ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ ” according to their statement.

“They’re reacting because it came out on the news,” said Ron D. Handy Sr., first vice president of the NAACP Bear Chapter. “They should have reacted when it happened.”

PLAYERS SPEAK OUT:Not surprised, ‘just disappointed’: DSU lacrosse players reflect on Georgia traffic stop

University president Tony Allen congratulates graduate Silas Phillips as he receives his diploma during Delaware State University's 2022 commencement ceremonies in Memorial Hall, Saturday, May 14, 2022.

In a press conference Friday, DSU President Tony Allen took “full responsibility” for the decision to delay an announcement.

He told Delaware Online/The News Journal in an earlier interview that he held off on publicly commenting on the incident until the administration and student athletes “understood [their] legal recourse,” as well as all of the facts. 

He did not elaborate on what remedies DSU would seek, but said the university planned to file a motion in the coming week.





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