Perhaps the most ludicrous of the “don’t”s for Black people came about over the weekend when sisters of a historically Black sorority were approached by an unidentified state trooper while picking up trash on the side of a highway in Pennsylvania.
Sigma Gamma Rho sister Shawna Harrell (“Naomi” on Facebook) wrote about the incident in a Facebook post that has since been deleted. But according to screenshots, she indicated that she was rightfully “feeling angry.”
The girls had just taken a selfie in front of an Adopt A Highway sign with the name of their sorority on it, and the girls were decked out in Sigma Gamma Rho gear.
Harrell said a state trooper soon pulled up near where the girls were picking up garbage, including diapers, bottles, needles and other trash, while holding trash bags and wearing gloves.
“As we approach him, he’s asking what’s going on are y’all fighting ‘No sir we are cleaning the highway(points to the adopt a highway sign with Sigma Gamma Rho on it & trash bags).’
Trooper: ‘I’ve never seen anyone out here cleaning and I’m responding to a call.'”
One sister explained that the girls were doing their community service. The officer then asked to see identification from all of them.
The trooper handed the women back their IDs back and told them they “are doing great work, I wish more people would,” according to Harrell’s previous post.
But Harrell still had suspicions. She said in her Facebook post that she said to the trooper, “The fact is you said you were responding to a call once we explained to you what was going on you knew what we said was factual why then proceed to ask us for ID”
That’s when Harrell realized this incident had one significant difference from other ones that have taken place across the country.
The trooper confessed, “Uh well I wasn’t responding to a callno one reported you all, I just saw y’all on the highway and I called it in.”
In some cases of police responding to “calls” on Black people for partaking in routine activities, the officers were simply responding where they were asked to go. At LA Fitness, the cops seemed just as confused as the gentlemen who they were called to question. And in the case of a Black real estate investor, the authorities said the woman who called 911 could in fact wind up penalized.
But this time, it was the officer who cooked up the suspicions.
Harrell, an attorney, told Essence that she knows how the encounter could have played out.
“I’m tired honestly,” said Harrell, who has also filed a formal complaint. “As an attorney, I have look at this incident from different angles but I can’t shake the ‘what if.'”
Sigma Gamma Rho said in a statement, “We ask that the Pennsylvania State Highway Patrol immediately issue a public apology to the members of the sorority questioned, have a renewed commitment to becoming a part of the community they police through diversity training and attend town hall meetings.”
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police told the Washington Post that the trooper would have asked for identification to record who he spoke with. But it is not clear if there is a police report on the incident, the Post noted.
“The State Police did not intend to inconvenience the volunteers, who had every right to be there,” read a statement from the department, per the Post.
Even within “every right to be there,” though, the women still raised suspicion in the trooper.