Oakland Organizers Take Action After BBQ Harassment at Lake Merritt

A week after a video of a White woman harassing two Black men barbecuing at Lake Merritt for hours went viral the story has somewhat lost its narrative.

The two men involved, Kenzie Smith and Onsayo “Deacon” Abram, did not get a chance to share much of their side of the story to what happened before the filming of the woman.

The story went viral at the same time Urban Peace Movement and DNas had already organized 510 Day. 510 Day is an annual event that happens on May 10th (5-10). People from the Bay Area knew of 510 Day and used that to say “fuck you” to gentrification.

People outside of the Bay Area thought it was a cookout and us having a party to spite the White female harasser who we like to call the “Charcoal Police.” Others on Twitter have been using the hashtag #BBQBecky.

510 Day is a day for Oakland natives to share our history about the Black Panther Party and other historical events that happened in Oakland. The lake was the perfect spot since it was a smaller version of Festival at the Lake.

However, 510 Day was taken out of context for those outside of the Bay Area and knew of Oakland’s culture. It was a day for us to come together and celebrate, but we were also bringing awareness to the institutional racism in Oakland. That was not enough though.

Smith and Deacon had a chance to share their perspectives with iNeverWorry podcast hosted by DB Bedford, and you get to see what that day was like from them.

Smith is a godson of original Black Panther member Saturu Ned, and Deacon is an Oakland native. They grew up going to Lake Merritt for barbecues and parties and know how it used to be before new park laws put in place that now negatively affect Black residents from hanging out at Lake Merritt.

A rally called “Grill Your Government” was organized on May 15 at city hall by Carroll Fife to make demands for change in policies with the city of Oakland. Council member Brooks of District 6 was the only one who reached out to help organize the group to speak at city council.

Before going inside, the speakers rallied in front of city hall for different community members to talk about the effects of gentrification mixed with longtime Oakland residents who have had hidden racially charged motives to put new Lake Merritt rules in place such as “non-charcoal barbecue approved zones” which are not currently enforced.

Some of the speakers included Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, Oakland city council District 2 candidate Nikki Fortunato Bas, Laney College journalism student and filmer of the BBQ harassment Michelle Snider, Mike Hutchinson, and Samba Funk who used to drum at Lake Merritt. The purpose was to demand Oakland city council change the rules to benefit residents of all Oakland districts better.

This incident was without question racially motivated considering the two men’s collaborating stories along with the video and a third witness who live-tweeted the entire event.

Many Oaklanders have been seeing an increase of cops called on Black people for doing normal activities and having fun. It is often a game of  White privilege exercised and abused in a show of power, and that was not going to be accepted by people who grew up in the community.

“They want us to follow the rules when they accommodate you, but you change the rules on the floor to suit you. We demand a formal investigation into the background of this woman who called the police regarding this possible contract work with the city,” Fife said to the city council.

Fife also said there was a need for police protocol to determine how many city resources have been wasted by minor non-threatening response calls.

“We want this reconsideration by the council of the regulations that allowed this to happen and that are imposed at Lake Merritt. And finally, we want a resolution from city council to impose fines on people who make baseless 911 calls and waste resources,” Fife said just before leaving as a group of protesters walked out with the speakers yelling out five times, “All power to the people!”

In closing, come join us at BBQ’in While Black at Lake Merritt on Sunday, May 20th from 11 am until we are done. Most importantly, if you’re registered to vote in Oakland, pay attention to the June and November ballots. June is the state and county district elections and we have to put in a new District Attorney, most likely Pamela Price. In November, Oakland is voting for a new mayor and new council-members for Districts 2, 4 and 6. Organizing and speaking at city council is exercising our power but what is more powerful is voting and getting rid of the people who are enabling gentrification.

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