Ever wonder how Dr. Jennifer Schulte planned to spend her Sunday before she devoted more than two hours to harassing black people at Oakland’s Lake Merritt this April? Whatever her previous plans might have been, Schulte, an environmental scientist now more commonly (and eternally) known as BBQ Becky, quickly dropped them in order to abuse the 911 system and waste valuable police resources.
Though video of Schulte’s side of the April 29 call has long been available through viral video of the incident recorded by the spouse of one of the men she accosted, the dispatcher audio of those completely unnecessary “emergency” calls has FINALLY been released by the Oakland Police Department. Hoo boy, it’s a journey in white entitlement and obsession. The recordings, which OPD initially refused to unleash upon the world, paint a picture of an overzealous disaster of a human who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works, and expects law enforcement to ask “how high” when she orders them to jump.
It all begins at 11:22 AM, when Schulte, ostensibly just out strolling through Oakland’s iconic community lakefront, dials 911 instead of minding her own damn business.
SCHULTE: Um yeah, I’d like to report that someone is illegally using a charcoal grill in a non-designated area in Lake Merritt Park, kinda near Cleveland Cascade. I’d like it dealt with immediately, so that coals don’t burn more children and our city has to pay more taxes.
The male dispatcher calmly takes Schulte’s information and her description of the man grilling, along with the location. Schulte, who also sounds calm, though demanding, requests that the police contact her upon their arrival.
Police reports indicate that the call was initially considered low priority, as it should have been. Also, charcoal grill usage is not a police matter, so honestly, the cops were never going to come. Schulte, 41, seemed to believe that not only were the cops going to come, but that she needed to be there when they did, so she literally hovered over the barbecue of complete strangers for almost two hours because, again, her Sunday plans must have been way less interesting than harassing black grill masters. She was there so long, she actually had to go get her phone charger.
One hour and 46 minutes later, at 1:08 PM, Schulte calls 911 again, frantic. A female dispatcher is (un)lucky enough to catch the call, and to be honest, whoever she is, she should receive a commendation and a lifetime supply of See’s chocolate for her trouble. The dispatcher is as confused and bewildered by the situation as anyone watching Michelle Snider’s video of the incident for the first time would be.
Schulte, clearly unraveling in the face of her wholly unnecessary crusade falling apart, does little to help her cause, but police reports indicate that, by falsely claiming that members of Team Barbecue were shoving her, she gets her stupid complaint escalated from Priority 3 to Priority 1.
SCHULTE: Hi, um, I called about two hours ago, about someone illegally grilling with a charcoal grill in Lake Merritt and now people are being assertive and (something about people pushing and shoving her) and I was wondering when the police are gonna come and help me.
Michelle Snider can be heard yelling at her in the background, which confuses the dispatcher.
911 DISPATCHER: Why is this person yelling? What is the panic about a barbecue? I don’t understand. Are you in the park yourself?
SCHULTE: Yes, I am.
911: Okay, so why are you in an argument with these people, can you walk away?
SCHULTE: They keep following me.
911: Can you get away from them? Are you living in the park or something?
SCHULTE: No, no I’m not.
911: I don’t understand why you can’t separate yourself.
SCHULTE: They’re following me, they’re following me. I’ve been waiting for the police to come for two hours.
The dispatcher tries to identify Snider; when that doesn’t work, she asks Schulte for her name. Schulte just keeps telling her to check out her first report. When the dispatcher explains that law enforcement won’t be able to find her at the busy park, Schulte keeps insisting that the police should just call her cellphone when they arrive. When asked her race and age, Schulte sharply insists that her race doesn’t matter. The dispatcher keeps asking her how she expects the police to find her—“Just look for a lady at Lake Merritt? They will never find you!”
Schulte vaguely describes herself, using the key descriptor that “people are harassing her.” The dispatcher begins to question the veracity of the call due to Schulte’s continued noncompliance.
911: How are they gonna find you?
SCHULTE: They usually call your cellphone when they’re here.
911: Have you ever been to John George?
SCHULTE: What’s John George?
911: It’s a mental facility.
911: Okay, then just answer my question.
SCHULTE: But where are they? I don’t see them.
911: Okay, I’m gonna hang up now.
It’s worth noting that the police report shows the dispatcher noted that the caller “sounds 5150,” which is the California welfare code article discussing someone who, due to their mental health, might be a danger to themselves or others, and may thus be subjected to a 72-hour involuntary hold. Ultimately, the responding officer later evaluated Schulte and found her not to fit the criteria.
The dispatcher’s unwillingness to put up with her nonsense makes Schulte realize she needs to describe herself, and she does so. She complains again and again about how long it’s taking for the cops to come. She refuses to let the dispatcher talk to Snider, and gets snarky with her after she asks for clarification about her ever-changing location. Schulte even has the gall to sarcastically ask the dispatcher, and I quote, “Do you guys not know the city of Oakland streets?”
Predictably, once Schulte is found by the police, she turns into a sniveling disaster because her overbearing commitment to being the self-appointed Grill Police failed so miserably.
There’s a lot that happened off camera that outsiders never saw—Schulte allegedly was threatening people with arrest and dropping n-bombs, but nobody seems to talk much about that, because the video provides so much fodder.
That being said, the rest of the story is history, of course. #BBQBecky trended for weeks, and became a meme for the ages. Michelle Snider wrote a lovely, must-read essay for The Root about how her Sunday plans were torn apart by the bored woman’s BBQ vigilance, and what it says about our society today.
The lessons learned from our viral video are a lot deeper than park rules. It has sparked a debate that unified many in a discussion about race and how some people will use the police to control public spaces. There are others, like Schulte, who call the police to control the environment around them, as if they have an authoritarian rule. Although people like Schulte are by far not the majority, it only takes a small group of people to advocate controlling public spaces to keep out whomever they deem undesirable.
We have to be better human beings overall. We have to stop caring what anyone thinks about us speaking out, we need to stop worrying about being polite, we need to stop being afraid and call out all the Schultes in the world, those who impede the freedom of others.
Now is not the time to hide in fear. Now is the time to act, speak up and document real life because this is a turning point in our history that must be forever recognized as the time when we decided to stand strong together. We must not be known as yet another generation that failed to prevent a repeat of inhumane actions.
The men making the food—Snider’s husband, Kenzie Smith, and his friend, Onsayo “Deacon” Abrams—were not charged with any crimes that day. Nobody was, actually, not even Schulte, because we still aren’t punishing people for abusing the 911 system as their personal Black People Patrol Line. Shortly after the April 29 incident, Lake Merritt was swarmed by an amazing “BBQing While Black” party, and the Mercury News reports that people have actually been using charcoal grills MORE this summer.
Also, this T-shirt was created.
Smith was also named to the Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, and recently decided to run for City Council.
Schulte, on the other hand, has never, not once, spoken publicly about the incident. Nobody seems to care. After all, we’ve heard more than enough from her.