2 Native American Teens Were Reported to Police for Joining a Campus Tour. Now We’re Stepping In.

Body Cam Footage from CSU Campus Police

Last spring, Kanewakeron Thomas Gray and Skanahwati Lloyd Gray, two Native American brothers, drove from their home in New Mexico to Colorado State University, excited to tour the college where they hoped to enroll. Their excitement and hopes soon turned to something else. A white parent on the tour called the CSU police department to report the teen brothers as suspicious based on the way they looked. The parent questioned whether the two teens belonged on the campus.

CSU police did not ask the caller for more factual information. They did not take the time to observe the tour or speak to the tour guide or admissions office. Instead, they responded to the call by confronting the teens and pulling them from the tour. Standing in the bustling college hallway, the brothers — who traveled seven hours to get to their dream school — were questioned and searched. They had done nothing wrong and were never suspected of any crime. 

The response of the CSU police magnified and legitimized the racial bias of one individual. Her biased actions were noxious. A different response by the campus police could have made this clear and supported the teens against the racial bias they faced. Instead, by calling the police, the woman was able to have the brothers removed from the tour and their right to be present was questioned by those charged with protecting the community.

How to make change on your campus

The brothers were left scared and humiliated, and when they departed the campus, the message couldn’t have been clearer: You’re not welcome here.

Members of the CSU community were rightfully outraged by the treatment of the Gray brothers. President Tony Frank sent a message to the CSU community, affirming the administration’s desire to make things right with the Gray family and communicated “the deep concern and commitment shared by [the] Admissions team, CSUPD, and the University administration to prevent something like this from happening again.”

This seemed a heartening promise and an opportunity for the university to take a strong stand against racial bias. Unfortunately, that promise has not translated into action.

The ACLU is representing the Gray family. We hoped to engage with CSU and persuade the administration to adopt policies and practices to prevent campus police from being used to further racial bias and discrimination. But another school year has started, and another group of diverse students has arrived on campus, and the comprehensive measures needed to ensure that CSU is a welcoming place for all students have not been adopted.

On Thursday, the ACLU sent a letter to President Frank, urging him to make good on his promise to the CSU community. We are calling on CSU police to amend their policies for dispatcher and officer response and to improve anti-bias training and policing practices that will respect the dignity of individuals.

For example, CSU police policies should direct dispatch staff to elicit information about specific behaviors when receiving suspicious person calls. This information should be relayed to officers who should be clearly permitted to exercise discretion in responding, including the option to take a “respond and observe” approach.

“My boys were publicly humiliated and told that their looks alone make them suspicious characters,” said Lorraine Kahneratokwa Gray. “As a mother, I was horrified to hear they were pulled away from a CSU tour because of someone’s misplaced and racially motivated fears. I hope they fix these policies, so other parents do not have to wonder if their children will be safe and welcomed on campus.”

Sadly, the Gray family’s experience is not an isolated incident, and college campuses are not safe havens from racially biased calls to police. Similar incidents have occurred at Yale University, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts. It is time that CSU and other colleges take affirmative measures to ensure that their campuses are truly welcoming to all students.

Have You Been Targeted by Racist Calls to The Police?

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Anonymous

Exactly! I think it's time to take names & interview the racists & bigots that make these unfounded calls. Make them accountable not only for the damage done to these people's lives, but also for the resources wasted to answer these horrendous calls.

Harry WilliamsA...

Use my $20 I send you every month.

Howard Gaskill

Even with training such incidents put police and 911 operators in a tough spot. Public Service ads instruct us to 'See Something, Say Something'.
The school has contacted the family offering to pay their expenses for another trip to the school, as reported in a paper.

Michelle

Yep keep up the facade

Michelle

Yep keep up the facade

Anonymous

By citing this policy of “see something,” you appear to be arguing that “something” equates to “a person of color.” Do you really not see that this is bigotry?

Hughes

So what was suspicious about them? "If you see something, say something" means what? People's race, size, gender, clothes? What were they doing that made them suspicious? Apparently this needs to be spelled out to some people, especially bigots. Was a weapon seen? Was a package or bag left behind? Were threats made? I'm sure there are many others, but skin color and tattoos are not it.

Howard Gaskill

My earlier comment has not yet been posted but has been 'queued for review by site administrators'. If the 911 operator had done likewise then this unfortunate situation may not have happened. Of course, if 911 calls were queued then we really wouldn't need 911 would we? We would just mail a letter when in need of help.

Anonymous

This issue keeps coming up. Someone calls to report something they regard as suspicious, usually because of the race of the targeted person(s). The article has it exactly right. Instead of a knee-jerk response to, in effect, stop & frisk the "suspect," the police should interrogate the person complaining about exactly what is happening that makes the person suspicious. If it's "they just don't look like they belong," tell the person "thanks for calling" and go on to something important. Police are being used by these racists as tools to attack innocent people. Good for ACLU to step in. Maybe our last line of defense, short of the ballot box, to put an end to this nonsense.

Anonymous

The campus is just part of a college campus problem. The racial concerns should also include inside the classroom, the hallway, library, and other interior areas of a campus. Former colleagues of mine, had dealt with a lot of internal racism on a college campus. Let's not ignore that the premise for white privilege began with the construction of the educational institution.

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