Touring campus while young, metal-loving and Native American

Interview in the aftermath: Thomas and Lloyd Gray speak to Hellbound

Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, 17, had saved money to travel to Colorado State University to consider it as the potential starting point for the next chapter of their lives. The brothers, who are in a band together called Snot Goblin, borrowed their family’s van to make the seven-hour trip from Santa Cruz, New Mexico, to Fort Collins—the furthest trip they’ve embarked upon on their own. Their excitement abruptly came to an end as campus police officers pulled them aside for questioning that involved a pat-down, following a call from a parent who was nervous about their “suspicious” behavior and clothing that featured “dark stuff.” They were wearing Cattle Decapitation and Archspire clothing.

The brothers believe they were profiled because of their ethnicity – Native American – as well as their metalhead appearance. “I’m still not one hundred percent sure how I feel about it. I still keep getting mixed emotions on my part,” Thomas said, as he told Hellbound’s Jay Gorania about the incident that occurred on April 30.

“I just feel kind of confused as to why the lady called the police on us. I felt we were just acting like our normal selves and no one’s ever called the police on us before,” his brother Lloyd said. “I just love the atmosphere of Colorado. I don’t think this will change that, but I just feel a bit discouraged.”

In response to the dispatcher asking if they were white, the mother on the phone, who was briefly on the campus tour herself, said she thought they were Hispanic. The brothers are Mohawk, from the Akwesasne reservation in upstate New York. The Grays, who describe themselves as shy, had arrived after the tour began because they had difficulty finding the university’s admissions building.

CSU 911 Call (below the Message from the President and the Body Cam Footage)

“There are two young men that joined our tour that weren’t a part of our tour,” the woman said during her phone call to police. “They’re definitely not a part of their tour. And their behavior is just really odd. They won’t give their names. And then I asked them what they wanted to study. They were lying. They just really stand out.”

Campus police released the brothers after they were shown a confirmation e-mail verifying that the young men belonged on the tour. The tour group had meanwhile moved on. The Grays subsequently returned to the admissions office where Thomas said they were told they could not complete the tour but were welcome to continue on a self-guided tour. Upset with the entire situation, they got back in their family’s van with their brother Coy and drove back home to Santa Cruz. “He [Coy] didn’t join us for the tour, but he scraped together gas just so we could make it home.”

CSU Police Report on the incident (public distribution copy)

Following the incident, the teenagers’ mother contacted the university and vented on Facebook, eventually drawing the attention of news media internationally. In light of the ordeal, Cattle Decapitation has offered the brothers lifetime passes to their shows. “I remember them from the last time we played New Mexico,” frontman Travis Ryan said. “I’m wondering if it’s even so much a racial profiling case as it is just an awkward teenager profiling kind of thing, a ‘See something, say something’ issue. These people thought these kids were acting awkward and weird enough to call the cops on them, which is ludicrous. They were just reacting to how they looked. They were wearing metal shirts.”

Ryan describes the Cattle Decapitation shirt that Thomas was wearing as “a depiction of a sea monster of trash ripping apart Poseidon, the God of the sea. And the lyrics on the back refer to the damage that’s being done by humans on the Earth. It’s a fucking environmental piece, for Christ’s sake.” The mother who called the police perceived the clothing to have “weird symbolism and wording on it.”

Colorado State University has extended an apology to the family, including an offer to reimburse their expenses and bring them back to the campus as VIP guests ( University President Tony Frank wrote, in a public statement, “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, religions, heritages, and appearances belong here.” However, he also puts the Gray brothers’ experience in the context of a larger “battle with hate within our communities.” Recent incidents at CSU include the distribution of Nazi propaganda and a fake noose hung in a residence hall.

In spite of the lengthy statement from the university’s president, Lloyd no longer plans on attending CSU. But the brothers don’t want the situation to dissuade them from moving to Colorado. “We really wanted to go to school here to be closer to Denver. It’s a place I really would like to live. It’s a huge inspiration for my musical career, although Lloyd and I will go together wherever we end up,” Thomas said.

The Grays’ passion for metal is obvious. Lloyd describes metal as a community, not just music. And Thomas isn’t at a loss for words when discussing the bands they like. “We started going to shows when I was around 10 and Lloyd was 8. Our older brother Daniel began taking us, and the more we went, the more we took it in and learned about the art and meaning it holds. Our favorite bands are Cattle Decapitation, Archspire, Cloud Rat, Arkaik, Inanimate Existence, The Zenith Passage, Animals As Leaders, Abominable Putridity, Abiotic, John 5, Cephalic Carnage, Continuum, Deeds of Flesh, Gwar, Desmadre, Ol Dagger, Cripple, Fallujah, Impaled Offering, First Fragment, Soreption, Nekrogoblikon, Origin, A Perfect Circle, Psycroptic, Rivers of Nihil, Rings of Saturn, Rob Zombie, Scale the Summit, Ghoul, Spawn of Possession, Trollband, Vale of Pnath, Virulent Depravity, Beyond Creation. Those are just the metal bands we listen to. Rap and hip hop are super influential to us also. A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, Twiztid, etc.”

You can check out and support Lloyd and Thomas Gray’s band Snot Goblin on bandcamp: