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La Jolla Elementary Email Blast Triggers Forum On Racial Profiling

The La Jolla Elementary School in La Jolla, CA is shown in this undated photo.

Credit: San Diego Unified School District

Above: The La Jolla Elementary School in La Jolla, CA is shown in this undated photo.

How Vague Suspect Descriptions Criminalize Black Skin


Starla Lewis, emeritus professor of black studies, San Diego Mesa College


La Jolla Elementary School Forum

When: 6 p.m. Monday October, 22

Where: La Jolla Elementary School Library

1111 Marine St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Community members will gather at La Jolla Elementary School Monday night to talk about the role vague suspect descriptions play in endangering black people in the community.

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Donna Tripi apologized last week for an email to parents that she said unintentionally perpetuated stereotypes about black people.

In September, Tripi warned parents in an email about a man who had allegedly stared at and followed a parent's daughter to a local Starbucks, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Tripi described the man in her email as "an African American male about 30 years old, about 6'1"-6'2", dressed in all black and a hooded sweatshirt," according to the Union-Tribune. The email went on to give parents security tips "to keep your children safe," including calling the police "if you see something that doesn't feel right."

"We're all hoping it was an isolated incident," Tripi wrote in the email, "but reminders are always helpful."

Last week, Tripi sent another email to parents apologizing for her vague description of the man.

"My email was a mistake. While it is critical to keep our school family safe, the way I communicated didn't provide enough specifics to identify the individual, but could easily lead to unnecessary and harmful reactions against other members of our community," Tripi wrote in the email. "African American males continue to face discrimination in our society every day. The thought that I unintentionally contributed to that climate with a vague email is something for which I owe our community an apology."

Andre Branch, president of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, told The Union-Tribune that he took as much issue with Tripi's second email as the first one.

"This apology is as disturbing as the original email," Branch told the newspaper. "She repeats the description of the man, mentioning his race, but not that of the parents or the children. This repetition reinforces the idea that the parents and their children have something to fear from African- American men."

Out of 535 students enrolled at La Jolla Elementary last fall, five were black, the Union-Tribune reported. The school didn't employ any black teachers last school year and 28 out of 31 teachers were white.

The school held a forum on Monday at 6 p.m. regarding the matter and how to "support all families" at the school.

The community forum was facilitated by Omar Passons, a black attorney and community leader who recently ran unsuccessfully for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Passons said he had a visceral reaction when he first read Tripi's email on social media.

"It is sort of like a gut punch in the first moment because that description. You know it was just ... it was vague in a way that could describe me." Passons said. "And my view is if we can have a real conversation and understanding about what's going on that there's progress to be made."

Passons said he reached out to school district officials after he saw Tripi's first email posted on social media. School leaders asked Passons to moderate the Monday-night forum.


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