Many believed that this was a direct response to a September email in which LJE principal Donna Tripi alerted parents to an incident at a local Starbucks. Passons explained that was “not the main impetus” for the forum.
“The main issue at hand is community safety,” said Passons. “At the forum, we discussed how to ultimately keep everyone in the community safe, while simultaneously employing protocol similar to existing guidelines developed at San Diego State University and enacted within the San Diego Police Department.”
In her initial email, Tripi had warned parents of “an African- American male about 30 years old, about 6-foot-one to 6-foot-two-inches tall, dressed in all black and a hooded sweatshirt.”
Tripi’s email continued that the man was “staring and following” a LJE parent’s daughter to the Starbucks. The principal, who has held the position for more than the past two decades, cited “the see something, say something” ethos to defend herself in the email, which she eventually decided perpetuated racist descriptions.
In early October, Tripi apologized in a second email to parents; ultimately for her vague description of someone who had not committed a crime.
“My [first] 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 said.
“African-American males continue to face discrimination in our society every day. The thought that unintentionally contributed to that climate with a vague email is something for which I owe the community an apology.”
The San Diego chapter of the NAACP ultimately took issue with the series of emails/apologies issued by the principal, and released an official statement following the event coming to light.
“In September, Donna Tripi, principal of La Jolla Elementary School, sent an email blast in which she warned parents to be ‘vigilant’ regarding a man thought to be an ‘African-American male,’” the statement read. “On Monday of this week, Tripi issued an apology. The apology is as disturbing as the original email message. She repeats the description of ‘the man,’ mentioning his race, but not that of the parents, the children, or her race. This repetition reinforces the idea that these parents, their children, and all who read the communication have something to fear from African- American males.
“The passive voice used in the ‘apology’ conveys the writer’s unwillingness to take full responsibility for perpetuating racist stereotypes about African-American males. One wonders what she is apologizing for when she writes, ‘I spoke to the parents directly and am confident the concern they described was not imagined. What concern did they describe? That they were uncomfortable being in the presence of African-American men?’
Back in June, the San Diego Police Department was in the midst of statewide law enforcement training, outlined by AB953, which requires police to “sharply expand which kind of interactions they document and what elements of each interaction they need to record and submit to their superiors and state officials.”
This state-mandated training was spawned by a San Diego State University study showing that county traffic stop numbers among minorities were much higher than other groups.
Whether much else will occur regarding this issue is doubtful, but racial equality, as well as community safety, should remain paramount.