Tabari Sturdivant has made a name for himself as a director and producer in the TV and film industry, working with the likes of Tyler Perry. But during a recent stop at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Sturdivant found himself in a real-life drama. While in the midst of boarding a flight to Los Angeles, Sturdivant was approached by two DEA agents who searched his belongings and questioned him without consent or explanation.
After finding no illegal contraband, the officers left offering no insight into why they approached the producers or invaded his space and personal belongings.
According to police records, from Aug. 30, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there were 402 jet bridge stops, and the passenger’s race was listed for 378 of those stops. Of those 378 passengers, 211, or 56%, were Black, and people of color accounted for 258 total stops, or 68%, the lawsuit says.
Sturdivant recently shared his harrowing story with ADW.
Let’s go back to the day you were stopped by DEA agents at Atlanta’s airport. Can you give us insight on what occurred?
I was directing a film out in L.A., so I was really eager to get to the airport. I got there about an hour and a half early and the TSA line was really long. I knew I was going to miss my flight immediately, so I changed my flight to another one that was an hour later. I have a black hoodie on, I have some headphones on and this white guy comes over towering over me asking me for my ID. He was kind of aggressive and asking questions about where I was flying. And then, a Black walked up and boxed me in from the back. So I’m like, ‘what the hell is going on?’ Before I knew it, the DEA agent was on his knee and in my bag and just pulling out all of my stuff, my hard drives and all of my clothes. All of my stuff is all over the floor in front of everybody and other passengers are looking and recording. I couldn’t believe it, I was so embarrassed.
When did they finally stop searching?
One cop was in my bag and looked up in disappointment because they didn’t find anything. And I was like, ‘wow.’ So he started putting everything in my bag. He then changed his attitude and said, ‘I’m gonna help you get on your flight.’ I told the Black DEA agent that it was messed up and I felt as if I was profiled because of my race. He tells me a story about how he felt profiled in a situation recently because he got pulled over and didn’t have his DEA credentials. And he had to go to court and prove that he was a DEA agent and he was telling me how he felt racially profiled. When I finally received my boarding pass, the White agent looked at me with a hard stare as I got on the plane. One I got on the plane, other passengers came to me and said they were disgusted by the search. Another passenger came told me they captured it on video. He sent the video to me.
How did the video go viral?
People started reaching out to me after it was posted online. I started tagging news networks and blogs. And the incident with Eric Andre and the Clayton English occurred where they experienced a similar situation of being stopped at the airport. So other media outlets began reaching out to hear my side of the story.
Eric Andre and the Clayton English actually filed a lawsuit against the airport. Do you think that’s the next step for you?
Yeah, at some point. But it’s bigger than that. Stuff like this has to stop. I definitely felt they targeted me. I had a black hoodie on and I just feel like that’s what they were doing. I was traveling by myself. There was no protocol and my constitutional rights were violated. So my goal is to have that stopped. We have to bring this to light.