Native American Teens Pulled From College Tour Want Changes

An attorney for two Native American brothers pulled from a Colorado State University tour earlier this year has demanded the school make policy changes, saying Thursday that campus officers violated the teens’ constitutional rights by patting them down without any suspicion of a crime.

A letter from American Civil Liberties Union attorney Sarah Hinger calls for the university to revisit its campus police policies and training to avoid another situation like the April 30 encounter, which resulted in the teens’ being “humiliated, scared and literally marginalized.”

Police video shows two officers stopping Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, who were then 19 and 17, respectively, during a group admissions tour and checking their pockets. The brothers from New Mexico had called the school their top choice.

Police said a mother on the tour had called 911, saying she was worried because the Grays were “real quiet” and wore dark clothing.

‘False promises’ of change

“My boys were publicly humiliated and told that their looks alone make them suspicious characters,” mother Lorraine Kahneratokwa Gray said in a statement. “We are all disappointed, not only with CSU’s meager response, but also with their false promises to right this wrong.”

The was one of numerous examples of racial profiling to make headlines this year. 

A Smith College employee called police last month on a black student at the all-girls school in Massachusetts because she appeared “out of place.” The school president announced the hiring of an outside investigator and ordered every employee to undergo mandatory anti-bias training. 

Meanwhile, Colorado State University has taken only “small steps” after promises to change protocols for campus tours, the ACLU said.

A message requesting comment from university spokesman Mike Hooker was not immediately returned.

The school previously said it would refund the money that the teens spent on travel and take steps to prevent a similar situation from happening again, including the use of lanyards or badges to identify tour guests.

University President Tony Frank decried the incident, saying the brothers “wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor — which appears to have simply been shyness.”

The ACLU wants Frank to order additional campus police training and a review of policies dictating how officers and dispatchers respond to “bias-based” reports on campus.

In an interview, Hinger told The Associated Press that the ACLU is not taking “any avenues off the table” — including possible legal action — should the university not follow through on its requests.

“Although they were never suspected of a crime, the Gray brothers were detained and searched by CSU police officers,” Hinger’s letter said. “In addition to violating their constitutional rights, this experience left the brothers humiliated, frightened and with an understanding that they were unwelcome on the CSU campus.”

‘Paranoid’ caller

Police have not identified the 911 caller, except to say she was a white, 45-year-old mother of another prospective student on the tour. In the call, she acknowledged she might be “completely paranoid” about the teens, whom she guessed were Hispanic.

She said their clothing had “weird symbolism or wording,” which turned out to represent metal bands.

She also said they were disinterested and evasive, adding that they wouldn’t provide their names when asked. The older brother said he had approached the tour guide during a stop in the library to introduce himself and his brother after the two had gotten lost on campus and arrived late.

The brothers, both Mohawk, are originally from upstate New York and are graduates of the Santa Fe Indian School, a New Mexico high school.

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