The woman now known on the internet as “BBQ Becky” — with her navy blue sweater, impassive look behind dark shades and hand clutching a green cell phone — transcended social media meme status to become spoofed this weekend on Saturday Night Live.
But the Oakland barbecue incident that made the woman infamous isn’t really considered funny by those who call it an example of racially motivated misuse of police force on law-abiding black Americans.
What’s made this saga the subject of mockery, criticism, debate and a whole range of other reactions is perhaps the way this incident unfolded on the morning of April 29, captured on video and viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.
Here’s everything to know about the Oakland barbecue saga:
How it all started that Sunday morning
On the morning of April 29, a Sunday, a white woman approached two black men setting up a charcoal grill on a park on Lake Merritt in Oakland. One of the two men, Onsayo Abram, later told the San Francisco Chronicle that the woman called it “my park” and told them, “you guys shouldn’t be here, you shouldn’t be doing this.”
The dispute was over whether charcoal grills were allowed on that part of the park, which the woman said was against the law. When the man said they would not leave, the woman said she’d call the cops, the Chronicle reported.
Whether charcoal grilling was legally allowed at the park remains in dispute but Abram told the Chronicle that the city should clarify those rules to avoid future confrontations like this one.
Another woman captures the second part on video
Another woman, identified in news reports as Michelle Snider, saw what was happening and began recording the incident on camera. The video begins with Snider confronting the woman on the phone with police.
Snider: “I hear you’re having a problem with these gentlemen having a barbecue here at the lake. What’s going on?”
Unidentified woman: “It’s illegal to have a charcoal grill on the park here.”
Snider: “No, it’s not. I just looked at the map, and it says this is a designated barbecue area.”
Unidentified woman: “No, no charcoal grills are allowed.”
Snider: “What kind of grill are you not allowed, and why are you so bent out of shape over them being here?”
Unidentified woman: “Because it causes extra money from our city to do things when children get injured because of properly disposable...”
Snider: “Are you sure it’s not because you don’t want black people out here?”
Unidentified woman: “It has nothing to do with their race.”
The exchange goes on for more than 20 minutes and it escalates to a verbal altercation. It concludes with the unidentified woman sobbing next to a police officer responding to her call. In the end, no one was arrested or cited, the Chronicle reported.
The video is uploaded to YouTube, goes viral
That day, Snider uploaded the 25-minute video to YouTube and it eventually found a wide audience. As of Monday, it had been viewed more than 2 million times. Over the course of several weeks, the video prompted outrage on the internet and in person at one Oakland City Council meeting where residents spoke out.
Others, also outraged by the video and the woman’s actions, held a large cookout and a gathering at the park.
Who is the woman calling the police?
The real name and identity of the woman in the video has not been confirmed despite attempts to do so by some media organizations. Several Twitter accounts have shared the name and photo of the person believed to be the woman, but The San Diego Union-Tribune cannot independently verify that identity.
Why is she being called ‘BBQ Becky’?
Internet memes of the woman emerged almost soon after the video was uploaded to YouTube on April 29, but the video didn’t really take root in the public consciousness after May 11 when comedian Roy Wood tweeted about it, according to the Know Your Meme online encyclopedia.
Another Twitter user by the name of @currentmscook was the first to refer to the woman as “BBQ Becky” in a tweet. Others began to use the hashtag #BBQBecky in reference to the meme showing the woman in sunglasses superimposed on a wide variety of other unrelated images, from civil rights images to other pop culture references.
Saturday Night Live roasts “BBQ Becky”
On Saturday, a parody version of the woman in sunglasses quietly appeared on various instances in the season finale of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” including at the conclusion of one segment and in the credits.
An ‘assault on black life’
Lynette McElhaney, an Oakland City Council member, told the Chronicle that the police should be called in emergencies and not for “frivolous” reasons.
“In a city that needs significant policing services, we can’t have those precious expensive resources squandered in a frivolous way,” McElhaney told the HuffPost. “Police are not private security for any white person that’s offended by the presence of black folks in our public spaces.”
A local activist, Carroll Fife, called the incident an “assault on black life.”
“The recent emergency phone call from Jennifer S., 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,” Fife told the Oakland City Council at a meeting.
The woman at the center is under heavy scrutiny and the internet has responded by attempting to identify her and her employer. As of Monday, the woman had not publicly spoken out or provided a statement.
Whether the city clarifies its park rules to avoid incidents like these remains to be seen.
At a city council meeting last week, councilmember Desley Brooks said she has requested a formal investigation into the woman who called the police, the Oakland Post reported. And another council member said the council would discuss the park rules at a future meeting.
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