Two suspicious young men joined a Colorado university’s campus tour to which they did not belong, a woman told a 911 dispatcher. They refused to say their names, she said, and one of them started to laugh when she asked what they wanted to study.
“They just really stand out,” she added, judging from their “odd” behavior and dark clothing with “weird symbolism or wording on it.”
And one of them is “for sure” Hispanic because he said he’s from Mexico.
Contrary to what the woman had suspected, the young men were part of the campus tour. They showed police an email to prove it. The brothers, 19-year-old Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and 17-year-old Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, are Native Americans from the Mohawk tribe who had driven several hours from New Mexico to Colorado State University in Fort Collins to see whether the campus would be a good fit for them. They got lost and arrived 45 minutes late.
After seeing the young men on the tour, the woman called 911. Body camera footage showed the shaggy-haired teens timidly answering questions from police officers. They were told to keep their hands visible. They were patted down because the woman had said one of them had his hand in the pocket of his oversize jacket. They were wearing black clothing, but that “weird symbolism” was metal band logos. One was that of a band called Cattle Decapitation, whose songs protest mistreatment of animals, their mother said.
They told police the woman who was suspicious of them had asked for their names, but they did not say much because they are shy. As their mother would later say, they hadn’t had much experience in the outside world.
By the time police let them rejoin the tour, they had already been left behind. They drove back home.
“Two young men, through no fault of their own, wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor, which appears to have simply been shyness,” Frank wrote Friday. “The very idea that someone — anyone — might “look” like they don’t belong on a CSU Admissions tour is anathema. People of all races, gender, identities, orientations, cultures, religion, heritages, and appearances belong here.”
Anyone who is “uncomfortable with a diverse and inclusive academic environment” should find another campus “elsewhere,” Frank added.
The brothers said their experience fits a pattern of racial profiling. The incident comes after a raft of similar situations have thrown a spotlight on racial bias and perceptions in recent weeks, The Washington Post’s Kyle Swenson wrote. In April, two young black men who had arrived early at a Philadelphia Starbucks for a business meeting wound up leaving the coffee shop in handcuffs. Days later, two black men were wrongly accused of not paying to use an LA Fitness gym in Secaucus, N.J., The Post’s Rachel Siegel reported.
Thomas Gray, a student at Northern New Mexico College, told the Associated Press that he and his brother kept to themselves the whole time. “I guess that was scaring people,” he said, “that we were just quiet.”
The teens’ mother, Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, said listening to her son recount the experience reminded her of an encounter between an officer and a black man. “Unfortunately” in that incident, the man was shot and killed by the officer, Lorraine Gray wrote on Facebook.
“I am lucky my sons are both still alive,” she said.
In a lengthy message to Lorraine Gray, the tour guide said she did not believe the young men were suspicious and apologized for not realizing what had happened until later.
“I am so sorry that I did not know. I am so sorry that I could not have stopped this from happening,” Gabriella Visani wrote. “I am frustrated that the mother of the other student didn’t think to let me know that she was calling the police on my tour guests.”
“My heart is hurting,” Visani added. “Please tell your sons that they ARE welcome here, even if they don’t feel like it.”
A police report and audio of the 911 call were redacted and edited to avoid identifying the caller, who was described as a white female. During the 911 call, the woman repeatedly told the dispatcher that she had never called 911 on anyone before and, perhaps, she was just “being completely paranoid.”
After the incident, Lorraine Gray called campus police and told the officer that she felt her sons had been racially profiled, according to the police report. The officer told Gray that police are obligated to follow up on any call they receive and that the caller was “suspicious because of the boys’ actions alone.”
But in his message to the campus community, Frank, the president, urged everyone to reflect on their own biases against people who don’t look like them.
“It seems to me that we can all examine our conscience about the times in our own lives when we’ve crossed the street, avoided eye contact, or walked a little faster because we were concerned about the appearance of someone we didn’t know but who was different from us,” he said.
And that call for self-reflection includes him, Frank said, “a white man in a position of authority.”
Kyle Swenson contributed to this report.