A Black physical education teacher in Temecula, California believes she was racially profiled by a couple who were suspicious of her presence on school property.
On the morning of Aug. 14, PE teacher Tiffany Suetos prepared to record background footage for her PE class at Red Hawk Elementary School. But Suetos was harassed by a couple from the neighborhood after setting up her camera.
The unidentified man and woman demanded Suetos leave the school grounds immediately.
Suetos was reportedly reduced to tears as the couple refused to accept her explanation that she was a Red Hawk Elementary staff member. The couple went so far as to drive to the school administration building to report Suetos to school authorities.
After campus custodian Ruben Castillo confronted them about racial profiling and defended Suetos, the couple stopped their attack. Before leaving the school, the couple justified their actions by claiming there had been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood.
The incident occurred after Suetos was shown around the Red Hawk Elementary School campus by the vice-principal and Castillo. Suetos later walked alone to an athletic field to get footage to use for her online classroom.
During the confrontation at the athletic field, Suetos told the couple she was a teacher at the school. She then left the area and informed another campus employee of the incident.
Suetos was interviewed by the school’s resource (law enforcement) officer later that day. Law enforcement also took a statement from the couple that harassed her.
The school’s vice principal spoke to the couple as well. She said she could find no reason for the confrontation other than the fact Suetos is Black.
According to a police report obtained by My Valley News, the woman said she:
“exited her residence and requested to know the reason why Suetos was on school grounds, her name and requested to know if she was an employee of the district.”
The woman accused Suetos of taking pictures of her nearby home.
According to the couple, Suetos did not immediately respond to the woman’s questions. The woman’s husband then came out of the residence and joined her as they stood on their property and yelled at Suetos.
The husband claimed he had poor eyesight and—at a distance of about 50 feet—could not identify Suetos’ race so there was no racial profiling. He was however able to clearly identify Suetos when reporting her to the school and could tell she was a woman wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a ball cap and taking pictures using a tripod.
The deputy who spoke to the couple reported:
“[The woman said] there had been burglaries in the neighborhood and she did not see any form of identification on Suetos.”
The school reported no similar incidents with White teachers, faculty or staff on school grounds.
The couple added they were only doing their part in helping to protect the neighborhood. They also expressed their disappointment in being accused of racial bias.
Six days after Suetos’ run-in with the couple, Temecula Valley Unified educators organized a protest in front of the school to show their support. During the August 20 rally, Suetos read from a letter she sent to the superintendent.
“I cannot stop crying because I know this is something I have to accept. I know that nothing will happen after this letter.”
“And if I’m wrong, I thank you.”
In an interview where they were joined by their son, the couple—who spoke on the condition of anonymity—claimed their own status as minorities—the husband said he was Ashkenazi Jewish and his wife Latina—meant they could not be racist. The family went on to outline discrimination their ancestors faced as further proof of no racial bias on their part.
“There are racist people within every ethnicity, within every culture, and just because this happened to them—which my heart goes out to them—that doesn’t negate the fact that they reacted off of pure perception and unknowing bias when they saw me, and that perception in turn, it turned into action, which is why they continued to yell.”
Rather than racism, Suetos cited racial bias.
“So this implicit bias, this unknown bias they had when they saw me, they made this connection that I’m a burglar.”
In spite of everything, Suetos harbored no resentment.
“With that said, I still forgive them.”
“I don’t think that they’re racist, but I also don’t think that they realized the connection that they made, whether it was consciously or unconsciously, when they looked at me and they saw me and assumed that I was a burglar.”