The Slatest

Mom on College Tour Calls Police on Two Native American Teens: They Made Her “Nervous”

Bodycam footage of the two teenagers, with their faces blurred.
Colorado State University released body camera footage showing officers’ interactions with Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray on April 30. Screenshot

It was their dream school. But when the brothers joined a Colorado State University tour, they got an experience that was far from what they were expecting after driving seven hours from New Mexico. Two police officers pulled Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, 17, from the tour to ask them questions. Turns out a mom on the tour had called the police saying the brothers, who are Native Americans from the Mohawk tribe, made her nervous, saying they were “definitely not” a part of the tour.

The woman went on to say that the brothers “just really stand out,” because they were acting “odd” and wearing dark clothing with “weird symbolism or wording on it.” She also said one of them was “for sure” Hispanic because he said he was from Mexico. Turns out they were just wearing T-shirts of death metal bands. And what the mom on the tour interpreted as evasion of questions was nothing more than shyness. But police only came to that conclusion after setting them aside and patting them down. By the time the police concluded they were a threat to no one, the tour had already moved on. So the brothers left.

Days after the April 30 incident, Colorado State University President Tony Frank wrote a long and heartfelt apology. The university had already expressed regret for the incident. But in his statement, Frank makes clear that “the very idea that someone—anyone—might ‘look’ like they don’t belong on a C.S.U. admissions tour is anathema.” He went on to talk about his own privilege and the “battle with hate within our communities” and said that anyone who is “uncomfortable with a diverse and inclusive academic environment” should look elsewhere for a school.

The senior who was leading the tour when the police were called wrote a letter to the boys’ mother on Facebook and also spoke to the media to express her regret over the incident. “I hope that the family sees how deeply sorry CSU is that this happened. That’s one thing,” Gabriella Visani said. “I think that’s truly our values. Our values are that we are so sorry. Not just in an apologetic placating way. But genuinely with them—sorry that this happened.”

The university president and tour guide may have been shocked about the incident, but for the brothers it was nothing more than another day in their lives where racial profiling is not all that rare. The incident also took place after a number of similar situations across the country, including the two young black men who were taken out of a Philadelphia Starbucks in handcuffs.