ATHENS – As Justin Scott-Wesley remembers it, he was parked in his car, waiting for a friend, when the police headlights flashed in his rearview mirror.
It was a neighborhood that had experienced some break-ins, at least from what the police officer told Scott-Wesley, who happened to be driving what he called a “run-down car.”
“I guess I fit the stereotype,” said Scott-Wesley, who provided his license and registration to the officer, who then recognized that he was dealing with a receiver on the Georgia football team. “Then he found out who I was, and then the whole environment changed. It lightened up.”
The officer and Scott-Wesley parted ways amicably, nonetheless, as he said this week, the stop “was something that raised my eyebrows. There was tension. You could see it in his facial expression. What would happen if I wasn’t who I was?”
Stories like this abound, say many in the black community, even athletes. Or perhaps especially athletes, given they “fit the stereotype,” as Scott-Wesley said.
A current Georgia player, junior safety Dominick Sanders, said this week he had never had any problems with the police. He said he couldn’t recount any experiences that left him wondering.
Former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley recalled that his only interaction with police was when he was given a warning the week of the Alabama game in 2003. The officer told Shockley he’d give him a warning “as long as you beat Alabama.”
“But I think it was kind of a joke, just something he said at the end of the stop,” Shockley said.
Georgia did win, 37-23, with Shockley throwing a touchdown pass off the bench.
Shockley doesn’t remember it being a big issue when he was at Georgia, or remember any “crazy situation” with the police while he was there.
Former Georgia linebacker Reuben Faloughi, now a PhD student at Missouri, said he had “mixed experiences.” There were positive ones with cops who blocked traffics on gamedays, who you knew “on the corner downtown who were looking out for athletes, instead of trying to arrest them.”
But Faloughi also detailed an experience in which he and a black teammate were driving from downtown back to campus, with two white friends in the backseat, and were pulled over. Faloughi felt it was an instance of profiling.
“We’re not speeding. I’m not under the influence. But we get stopped. And the stop is forever, we don’t know what’s going on. Fifteen, 20 minutes later he comes back and lets us go,” Faloughi said. “What are you trying to check the car for? I don’t know, it’s always hard to say the cops are pulling you over for one reason and over, but when you’re black you always have to wonder.”
The prevailing feeling on the team, according to Faloughi, was that Athens-area cops did not target athletes. But they also weren’t going to look the other way, as players suspected they did at other SEC schools.
“We understood that we were under a magnifying glass,” said Faloughi, who was active in last year’s campus protests at Missouri.
Scott-Wesley did have a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest while at Georgia, of which he said: “First of all, I was completely in the wrong. Completely boneheaded.” He accepted probation and served a suspension from the football team.
But he did have another incident which left him concerned. Scott-Wesley and his roommate, then-Georgia safety Devin Bowman, were going to a party at Omega Bar, which is off Atlanta Highway. The party was at capacity so they turned around and left. As they were going through the parking lot, Scott-Wesley said a police door swung open and hit Bowman.
According to Scott-Wesley, the policeman jumped up and said: “You need to watch where you’re going.”
Scott-Wesley, who had already had a run-in with the law, told Bowman it wasn’t worth it, they should go on. They did, and nothing more came of it. But with everything going on in the country now, he flashes back to it, along with the other incident.
“This is what happens every day,” he said. “Us, as young black men, we are conditioned to be anxious and apprehensive around police, because we see it in the news so often. All these incidents hit home.”