A woman seen in a viral video calling the police on a group of black people who were barbecuing at an Oakland park has been identified as a Stanford University-educated environmental scientist. Jennifer Schulte, who has become known on social media as “BBQ Becky,” was identified by The Root and News One, and widely on social media. Schulte, 41, could not be reached for comment about the video by Heavy and has not spoken out about the incident.
The video was posted on YouTube by Michelle Snider on April 29 just hours after the incident. The story went viral after Snider and her husband, Kenzie Smith, talked to KRON-TV on May 9. The incident occurred amid a string of viral incidents in which white people called the police on people of color for controversial reasons, including a white Starbucks manager who called the police on two men who were waiting for a business meeting, a white woman who called the police on a group of black people staying at an AirBnB, a white mother who reported two Native American teens to police because she didn’t think they belonged on a college tour and a white Ph.D student who called the police on a Yale University grad student who was napping in a dorm common room while studying for finals. The incident has also drawn comparisons to a viral video of a Manhattan lawyer ranting about restaurant workers speaking Spanish.
Here’s what you need to know about Jennifer Schulte and the incident:
1. Schulte Was Evaluated for an Involuntary Psychiatric Hold by Police
The nearly 25-minutelong video of the incident was posted on YouTube on April 29 by Michelle Snider, who uses the handle Michelle Dionne on YouTube. The video begins after a confrontation had already been ongoing between the woman identified as Jennifer Schulte and Snider’s family and friends. “At around 11:20 AM a white woman approached a black man named Deacon for having a BBQ grill at Lake Merritt today.
She told him he could not BBQ there and called the police. She would not leave Deacon alone. A young black woman was walking by overheard how the white woman was harassing him telling him he can not be there, she stopped and asked the woman to leave her alone. The white woman became aggressive with the woman,” Snider wrote on YouTube. “Shortly after that Deacon’s friend Kenzie arrived. According to Kenzie, the woman said ‘Oh another n*gger.’ She proceeded to tell all three of the people at the BBQ table that she owned the park, and they are not allowed there. She also said them they were going to jail.” The racist comment allegedly made by the woman was not caught on video.
Snider, who is Smith’s wife, said her husband texted her a picture of the woman and said, “If I go to jail this is who did it to me.” Snider, who was at a nearby restaurant, then walked over to the park and arrived about 12:50 p.m., which is when the video begins. The video shows the interaction between Snider, her husband and others with the woman identified as Schulte. Snider follows the woman as she continues to call police to try to get them to respond to the park. When the officer eventually does arrive, the woman begins to cry as she talks to him, as the video ends.
“This is exactly what is the problem with Oakland today. This lady wants to sit here and call the police on them for having a barbecue at the lake as if this is not normal,” Michelle Snider told KRON-TV. Snider said the woman told them it was illegal to have a charcoal barbecue in the area where they were having their cookout. According to KRON, an Oakland Parks and Recreation map shows that the area is not a designated charcoal area, but is an area where portable non-charcoal grills can be used. Lake Merritt has three areas with stationary charcoal grills for public use, according to the map. But residents and officials told the news station that the rule is not typically followed or enforced, and is not a police matter.
“I have seen people barbecue with charcoal for years,” Kenzie Smith told the news station. “She said that we were trespassing, we were not welcome, and then she turned back around and said, ‘ya’ll going to jail.’ I think we need to question the policies that made this woman think woman feel she had the right to harass people.”
Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney told the news station, “I think it is really incumbent on all of us that when we call police, it is for emergency purposes.” She suggested there were other options than calling the police, telling the news station, “I want to encourage people to know when to call the police, when to raise a question of regulations with the city council, maybe there is a passive way to reach out to us.
Oakland Police said responding officers took a police report, but no citations were issued and no arrests were made.
On May 24, police released a log that reveals more details about the call. The officer told dispatchers he evaluated Schulte for a 5150 psychiatric hold, but determined that she “didn’t fit the criteria,” according to the report obtained by KTVU-TV.
“A 5150 in California allows a police officer or another professional to take a person into custody for up to 72 hours to evaluate their mental state and whether they are a danger to themselves or to others,” KTVU reports.
The incident took about 3 hours, with Schulte on the phone with police nearly the entire time, records show. At one point, the dispatcher told responding officers Schulte, “sounds 5150.”
2. ‘BBQ Becky’ Memes Have Spread Across Social Media
In the days after the video went viral, the woman has become a meme on social media known as “BBQ Becky.” According to Know Your Meme, “BBQ Becky, also known as White Woman Calling the Cops, refers to a series of Photoshop memes of a woman in sunglasses calling the police in a park on a group of African American people having a cookout in an Oakland, Ca park. The image has been edited into photographs of the civil rights milestones as well as captions that mock the woman for calling the police.” Becky is a n You can see some of the memes below:
The woman who posted the original video tweeted one of the memes:
“Beyond the ‘Cookout Beckie’ aka ‘BBQBeckie’ memes and jokes, the reason why this story resonates so much in the Black community is that there is a pattern of people, white people, calling the police on Black people, which often ends up being scary at the very least, or deadly. Even cops have complained that white people waste their time with irrational fear of Black people, imagine that!” AfroPunk writes. “So this isn’t just about ‘Cookout Beckie’. This is a pattern. And this isn’t about conservatives vs. liberals either. As we’ve often reported (and so did Martin Luther King Jr. before us), white liberals are just as problematic as conservatives.”
Otis Taylor Jr. wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, “The first time I saw the video of a white woman on the phone with police because two black men were using a charcoal grill at Lake Merritt, I thought it was a parody, a provocative satire on race in America. But, no, this is America, a country where a black person must be prepared for the possibility that police might be called to investigate and indict their blackness.”
3. Schulte Has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering From Stanford, but the University Says She Does Not Work There, Disputing Reports That She Is a Professor
The 41-year-old Jennifer Schulte, whose name has been in some reports misspelled Jennifer Shulte, graduated from Stanford University in 2006 with a Ph.D in chemical engineering, according to her now-deleted Linkedin profile. That detail and her use of the name Dr. Jennifer Schulte on social media has led some to believe she is a professor or otherwise employed by Stanford.
But the California university distanced itself from her on Twitter, writing, “According to our records, a person by this name earned graduate degrees at Stanford more than a decade ago. She is not employed as staff or as a faculty member.” An entry on a Stanford website shows that she was part of the James Swartz Research Group in the chemical engineering and bioengineering department.
Schulte is a North Dakota native and attended the University of North Dakota for her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. She has lived in Oakland since 2006.
4. She Works as an Air Quality & Climate Change Specialist
Schulte works as a senior project manager at an environmental resources and services company in Oakland, according to her Linkedin profile. Her work focuses on air quality. She is also a climate change technical specialist. She previously worked at Horizon Water and Environment, URS Corporation and Environ International Corporation.
An announcement for a 2016 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute shows that Schulte gave a talk titled “OEHHA Revised Risk Assessment Methods: Developing a Facility Game Plan” for the organization. “Dr. Jennifer Schulte is a Senior Project Manager with ERM based in Walnut Creek, California. She has 10 years of experience as an air quality and climate change specialist, and is a recognized expert in the fields of air quality, emission estimation, air dispersion modeling, health risk assessments, and climate change impacts,” the website said. “Dr. Schulte has conducted complex projects throughout California, the United States, and some international locations involving air emission inventories, air dispersion modeling, health risk assessments, and climate change analyses for numerous clients including commercial and residential development projects, ports, transportation, refineries, and various other industrial areas. She conducts air quality and climate change analyses for regulatory compliance, environmental studies required for CEQA and NEPA, and litigation support.”
The Irvine, California, city website shows that she was part of a team that prepared a supplemental environmental impact report as part of a city project.
5. Oakland Residents Held a Large Cookout & Spoke Out About It at a City Hall Meeting
Oakland residents responded to the viral video by holding a large cookout in the area where the incident occurred. A huge crowd showed up for the barbecue at Lake Merritt on May 10. “This how we feel about mad a** Oakland gentrifiers,” Michael Swanson Jr. said in a video from the party.
Residents also spoke out at a recent city council meeting:
“The assault on black life is not an isolated set of circumstances,” activist Carroll Fife told the council, according to Mother Jones. “The recent emergency phone call from Jennifer S”—the name of a woman identified on Twitter as the caller, but whose identity remains unconfirmed—”a white woman angered by an African American family barbecuing in an unauthorized location at Lake Merritt, highlights how anti-black racism is used in a way to control black bodies and used in a way to control space.”
She added, “We don’t want any more apologies. We don’t want any more business cards. We don’t want any more forums. What we want is you all to take note and take account.”
City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney told HuffPost, “In a city that needs significant policing services, we can’t have those precious expensive resources squandered in a frivolous way. Police are not private security for any white person that’s offended by the presence of black folks in our public spaces.”