Members of a black sorority who were cleaning a Pennsylvania highway over the weekend say they were left shaken after a state trooper pulled over, questioned them and asked for their IDs.
According to a now-deleted Facebook post by Shawna N. Harrell reported by Essence, the Sigma Gamma Rho members were cleaning Highway 83 in Harrisburg when a state trooper pulled over behind where they were working.
Harrell said that as the trooper approached he asked, "What's going on are y'all fighting?"
She said the women pointed to the trash bags and the Adopt-A-Highway sign — with the name of the sorority on it — nearby and told him they were cleaning the highway.
Social media photos show that the women were wearing clothing in the sorority's colors of royal blue and gold.
She said the trooper told them he'd never seen anyone cleaning the highway and was responding to a call, though Harrell said he later told the women he pulled over on his own when he saw them.
After one of the women told him they had just finished cleaning up needles, bottles, diapers and other trash, the trooper asked them what school they went to. The women told them about their professional jobs — Harrell is an attorney — and he asked to see their IDs.
"Meanwhile we all look at each other pissed and discuss how the entire interaction makes us feel," she wrote.
People on social media are talking about how the incident makes them feel, too.
The Root has dubbed the incident #CommuntyServiceWhileBlack.
“Angry doesn’t begin to describe how I feel right now. I’m so glad they weren’t hurt or further harassed, but this has to stop! You want us to do good things in the community, but you harass us while we’re doing it," wrote Twitter user @ShoStanback.
What happened on that Pennsylvania highway "is part of a larger series of recent events that have involved police being called or disrupting situations in which black folks are just living their lives," wrote Essence.
It also happened just two days after dozens of black people had a cookout in an Oakland, Calif., park where a white woman had called the cops on a black family because they were using a charcoal grill, which violated the park's rules.
Sigma Gamma Rho issued a statement on Monday asking the state police for a public apology to its members who were questioned by the trooper. it began by stating that Gamma Sigma Rho has performed community service activities to help improve its communities since it was founded in 1922.
"What is unfortunate, according to the sorority members present, the trooper responded to a call that women were fighting along the highway," the sorority's statement reads.
"Additionally, the trooper was unaware that many African American sororities and fraternities continue active engagement beyond their college years and many actually join as professional adults.
"It is equally troubling that the trooper was unaware the chapter had contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to inform the department of its project to beautify the highway.
"Finally, the ladies were dressed in the sorority colors of blue and gold with Sigma Gamma Rho Greek letters, wearing gloves, were dragging trash bags filled with debris and were working in an area clearly marked "Adopt-A-Highway" - Litter Control Interchange Area - Sigma Gamma Rho ..."
The sorority called for a "renewed commitment" from the patrol "to becoming a part of the community they police through diversity training and attend town hall meetings."
In a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday, the state police said the trooper stopped “in response to a call regarding pedestrians along the highway” and that it is “common practice for troopers to assist pedestrians along busy highways such as I-83, to ensure their safety as well as the safety of other drivers in the area.”
The statement, which did not reference any issues of race or identify the trooper involved, said the incident “does not appear to have been initiated by a call from (a) member of the public" and that the trooper asked the women for ID to document who he was speaking with.
“The State Police did not intend to inconvenience the volunteers, who had every right to be there,” the statement said. “And we commend them for their efforts to help beautify Pennsylvania’s highways.”
After the trooper handed them back their IDs, according to Harrell, he told the women they were "doing great work. I wish more people would."
“We are on the side of the road with your car behind ours with your lights flashing, drawing attention to us in a negative way and all we were trying to do (was) serve the community,” Harrell said she told the trooper.
"Tears in my eyes ... I just had to walk away. At that point the trooper couldn't and didn't say anything. He got back into his vehicle and left."