Oakland Neighbors Take to Organizing Offline

Oakland, CA – After several viral videos hit national news in the last month at Lake Merritt Park, neighbors became even more active and outspoken on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In response to issues like BBQ Becky, where a white woman told two black men they were not allowed to be at the park at all and called the police intent on arresting them for barbecuing with charcoal. To a white man trashing a black homeless man’s belongings throwing them in the lake and then coming back and attacking an activist who was filming. Lake Merritt neighbors are fed up.

Activists and longtime organizers like Cat Brooks, Gina Madrid, and Kin Folkz took a moment in need and organized an “Oakland Hands Around the Lake” on Saturday morning. While there was not enough people to create another mass holding of hands around the lake as they have done before, the event enabled many neighbors to meet each other, discuss local issues and prepare for a more significant event in July.

Among some of the most critical topics; the high cost of rents, homelessness, and stripping of Oaklands culture was major boiling points. Brooks mentioned the hardship of artists being able to afford to stay in Oakland as well as the slow stripping of longtime traditions like old school cars no longer allowed at First Friday events.

Video of First Friday event before old school cars were banned.

Folkz spoke of when she first moved to the Bay Area and attended school in San Francisco. She told a story about a man who was the first person she befriended despite locals who judged him as possibly mentally unstable just because he was not well dressed. Her story ends tragically with a reminder that community should not condemn and ignore neighbors merely because they do not look “normal.”

Kenzie Smith, one of the men in the BBQ Becky video, spoke of coming out and talking to neighbors being an essential part of a change. JJ Harris, the man who filmed “Jogger Joe” also spoke of a need for unity in the community.

Many neighbors who never met each other before had their chance to discuss important issues and life in general. Local city council candidate Nikki Fortunato Bas used the opportunity to campaign and speak for the interests of district 2 which Lake Merritt park is in..

The next “Hands Around the Lake” event will be held July 14 with hopes that each person will bring ten people with them and slowly build community unity. All of Oakland is welcome to join.

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.


White Privilege Used to Fight Racially Charged Harassment at Lake Merritt


Authored by Joy Elán

Oakland, Cali – On a sunny Sunday morning at Lake Merritt, a couple of people wanted to have a get-together and enjoy the scenery. However, that pleasure was interrupted when a woman decided to show up at their spot and call the police.

It does not take much to figure out what color they were and what color she was. The guys are respected members of the community, and they were having a joyous moment. They had their spot, and no one seemed bothered except this woman. She took it upon herself to call the police. It was discovered that she had been at the scene for two hours pretending to be on the phone with the police to intimidate them.

According to one of the men targeted, Kenzie Smith, the White lady was bothering him and his friend, Deacon for BBQing at Lake Merritt in a designated BBQ zone.

“I got out of the car at Cleveland Cascade stairs, and when I walked across the street, she was standing there on the phone. She said, ‘Oh great, another nigger.’

Smith looked around because he didn’t know who she was talking to. He was the only Black person in that area of the sidewalk. He walked over to his friend Deacon, where he had the BBQ, and said “Yo bro, what’s going on?”

He told Smith she had called the police for BBQing. “We both started cracking up, laughing,” Smith said.

According to Smith, it was around this time a young Black lady was standing over to the corner. She approached the table where the BBQ was being set up and introduced herself. She said she had witnessed the situation. By this time, the White lady walked over to the table, and she slammed her fist on the table and said: “There’s no BBQ today, you need to leave.”

“She was saying things like, ‘We weren’t welcome in the area of the lake.’ She told me and Deacon that she owned Lake Merritt. Also, she said we were not welcomed to be there. I felt like she was saying Blacks weren’t welcome,” Smith said.

Smith said, “She kept saying we were going to jail. She said that she was going to file a complaint for us cooking BBQ in the park. She said she knows her rights, that the rights state if she tells the police if she has a problem with us then we are going to go to jail.”

This one experience is not anything new to Black Oakland residents who want to chill on the east side of Lake Merritt (the Lakeshore Avenue side). Lake Merritt is a public park, which does not require a permit. It is first to come, first serve, as long as people are not doing anything illegal.

Davey D talked about this extensively on Facebook and was mentioned in the East Bay Express in May 2015, “Even when ‘permitted events’ took place, hostile residents living by the Lake organized and tried to shut them down if it was too many Black folks. Case in point last 4th of July, several thousand dollars was laid out to have an annual 4th of July party and picnic. Unbeknownst to organizers, a group of residents in the luxury high rise 1200 Lakeshore held a series of meetings including one with Park and Rec to get the event canceled.. What saved the day were Black residents who live there who pushed back…”

Cases like this go back to the Festival at the Lake, a long time Oakland event and tradition that shut down when White residents near the lake complained about the festival drawing the “wrong kind of crowd.” Occurrences like these are when privilege shows up and manipulates laws to their advantage. It is okay to have a picnic, but not a BBQ. Same thing, different choice of words and demographics.

Smith said, “I was like, so if you tell the police that two Black men are BBQing, that means we’re going to jail. I just didn’t understand the logic in the situation. And then it was like, she would continuously say little things to us, and she would act like she was on the phone talking to the police. She would say things like ‘Yea he’s wearing this,” or she would say, ‘Yea he won’t look at me officer because he thinks he’s going to jail.’ Or she would say, ‘Yea, he’s going to be somebody’s bitch in there.’ It was mind-boggling the things she was saying.”

Smith said, “It was like if someone was to put you in a box and say all the hurtful things to you at one time. That’s how it felt.”

Smith’s story continues as he mentioned his friend Deacon who was first at the scene had already been harassed by the woman for a while before Smith arrived. Deacon told Smith he did not know the woman, that she just came out of nowhere, called the police and kept telling him he had to leave.

According to Smith, when the young Black lady showed up (mentioned earlier), she was walking around the lake and heard what the lady was saying, heard it was racist. So she stopped to see what was going on, she asked Deacon if everything was okay. She started filming and put the much of the incident up on her facebook. Unfortunately, we were not able to get her contact information before she left.

The young woman asked the White lady to please move herself from the area. The White woman turned it back on her and told her to “mind her fucking business. This is my property. You don’t even know what’s going on.” The White woman became more aggressive towards the young Black woman. “It just was weird it was like, I think she wanted a reaction today. And she didn’t get the reaction she was looking for,” Smith said.

Smith had enough of the encounter with the White woman, for an hour he had dealt with her harassment. He decided to call his wife who was up the streets telling his friend Deacon, “You’ll see what she does. Just watch.”

Kenzie’s wife, Michelle Dione showed up around 12:50 pm. Dione, walked up to the White woman ready to film as she had already been sent a picture of the lady and knew what she looked like.

Dione is a White woman and what was cool about this was she was using her privilege to stop it. Dione knew her rights, and she was not harassing the woman.

“There’s this silent code of behavior that White women know, they are taught if you just change your tone you can often be deemed ‘innocent’ and believable to the point that your word becomes law. When I first approached her, she had that tone, the one that we are supposed to speak to police officers, the one that makes us automatically justified no matter what. I don’t think she expected me to bypass her bs and call her out,”  Dione said.

The woman stole a business card out of Dione’s hand, which started the second longer video Dione recorded. Dione said the woman tried to use her “victim voice” and used a lot of trigger words to get the police to be there faster, such as “they are are threatening me” when it was just Dione who was confronting her in her face.

The White woman who was harassing wanted to make sure that the men and women at the park were held responsible for her authority as a White woman. However, the woman did not like that someone was watching her and following her. She got a taste of her own nasty, racist medicine. All she had to do was mind her business and stay away from the area.  

After the lady ran away to a Quik Stop on Brooklyn and Newton, the police arrived and talked to her. The officer told Dione that she did not do anything wrong following her as long as she did not touch her. Dione informed the police that the woman should have called the Park services and not the police. The police agreed. As Smith noticed that she appeared to be mentally unstable, the police said that she wanted to evaluate her mental health too.

All this was taking place within 30 minutes, and despite the police showing up, the lady returned later at 4:15 pm according to Smith. The White woman harassed them again and said they weren’t supposed to be there, they were supposed to move. Smith told her that the Oakland police officer said to them that they did not have to move, and that the charcoal code was not enforced.

See video of Dione confronting the White woman here.