A recent racist incident at Lake Merritt, where a white woman called police on African Americans who were barbecuing at Lake Merritt, sparked a protest to “Grill Your Government” at this week’s City Council meeting. The City Hall protesters demanded the city investigate the white woman who on April 29 called the police on a mixed-race family that was barbecuing with a charcoal grill in a non-charcoal-designated area.
The incident became a national issue after a video of the event was posted online, unleashing a storm of comments on social media and a Lake Merritt dance party to defend the right to “BBQ while Black.”
Mayoral candidate Cat Brooks said, “This is a consequence of something City Hall put in motion over a year ago (at the lake) because white folks said that Black people and Brown people being loud is a scary and dangerous thing, and they don’t want it in their Oakland anymore.”
Michelle Snider, who shot the viral video, also believes the woman’s actions were racially motivated. Snider, a white journalism student at Laney College and a mother of two, is married to one the two Black men barbecuing in the video.
“It’s almost like weaponizing the police,” she said.
The protesters want people to stop calling the police for minor incidents, particularly on people of color.
“We don’t know if she called 911. We don’t know if she called non-emergency services, and that’s what we’re asking City Council to investigate,” said Carroll Fife, founder of Black Women and Elected Leadership. “If she abused resources, then she needs to be held accountable for that.”
According to a statement released by the protesters, “The recent emergency phone call from (a woman) … highlights how anti-Black racism is used as a way to control space as well as Black bodies… Residents of Oakland are incensed by the growing inequities impacting African Americans across the country and refuse to ignore the racialized abuses happening right here in our city.”
“Oakland’s African-American community demands accountability, transparent actions aligned to firm deadlines and the elimination of excuses for inaction,” the statement said, “We see the recent incident at Lake Merritt as a racialized abuse of city services that endangers lives and we want action from elected city leaders and policymakers.
Among the demands raised by the protesters:
- “Formal investigation into the background (of the woman) regarding possible contract work with local, state and federal government agencies, as well as possible affiliation with hate groups;”
- A resolution from City Council to impose fines on people who make baseless calls to 9-1-1 and waste city resources in the process.
Councilmember Desley Brooks said she has requested a formal investigation.
“Supposedly we have so much crime in Oakland that our officers are running from here to there, and yet they were able to come to the lake to respond to a ridiculous phone call,” she said.
Councilmember Kaplan requested a follow-up meeting to discuss the Lake Merritt and park rules that are in place, to determine whether those rules need to be amended.
Other similar incidents have been in the news lately across the country, including the arrest of two Black men sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks on April 12. The men had yet to order because they were waiting for a client, when police responded to a call from the manager.
At Yale University, a white student called the police on a Black student who had fallen asleep in their dorm common room on May 8.
Ken Epstein also contributed to this article.