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The Petty Barbecue Tyrant: A Story Of Our Time

Not every pain-in-the-butt white person is Bull Connor
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Did you see the video of the white woman in Oakland who called the cops on some black people who were cooking in a public park with a charcoal grill? My view is this: unless they’ve set up the grill in your house or in the ICU, you leave people with charcoal grills alone, because they are contributing to the sum total of human happiness. Meats grilled over a charcoal fire are one of life’s great pleasures. It takes an especially petty busybody to call the police on people who set up their charcoal grill in a public park. The woman, who is white, said that the black people were setting up their charcoal grill in an area reserved for gas grills, and that if they didn’t move, she was going to call the police.

They refused. She called the police. A friend of the black party video’d her on the phone with the cops, and called her racist. When the cops arrived, they didn’t arrest anybody, but they did determine that the busybody was, um, correct. So reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

That Chronicle report was the only neutral report I could find about this incident. The whole thing has blown up bigtime as an example of white racism. The reports on it have focused heavily on the fact that the busybody was white, and how this is obviously an example of anti-black racism.

Again: I believe the white woman may have been technically correct, but was morally wrong, and besides which, she’s a pill. But look: if you watch the 24-minute video until towards the end (say, starting at the 22 minute point), a different picture starts to emerge. Michelle Snider, the white woman taking the video of the anti-grilling white woman chases her with the camera, and harasses her to the point of tears. I went from disliking the barbecue griper as a pain in the butt to feeling very sorry for her, because she was bullied by Snider.

Neither the barbecue griper nor Snider comes off well in this video. At all. Two things come to mind:

1. Why the assumption that calling the cops on black people barbecuing is by definition an act of racism?
2. Even if so, why does that give one of the supposed victims (the woman with the camera) the right to harass the busybody by chasing her through the area?

Maybe the Barbecue Griper is a racist. But we have no reason to assume that. Maybe she’s just a petty person who sees a violation of the law — the grillers were in violation of the law — and went all nanny state. There’s a certain type of person who feels compelled to police public order to a ridiculous degree. Most of us, whatever our race, have had run-ins with that sort. They’re annoying as can be, but that’s just how some people are. It’s especially annoying when they happen to be right about the law.

Still, most of us learn how to get along together. Here’s a story: We lived in an apartment complex not too long ago. There were three young unmarried guys living in the flat above ours. They would get loud on the weekend. We decided that being good neighbors meant that we should put up with the banging and hooting until 10pm, but not after that, because that was bedtime. The first few occasions we went up to ask them to knock it off, they were nice about it. But then they got obnoxious, usually after they had been drinking. Finally one night, after multiple attempts to ask them to stop, we had to call the apartment security people. We didn’t want to be those neighbors, but they left us no choice.

The difference is that those bad neighbors were causing actual harm, yelling and banging on the floor and playing loud music until late in the night. The people grilling in the park were not harming Barbecue Griper one bit. Still, had the jerks upstairs been three young black guys, not white guys, I wonder if I would have said anything to them at all, for fear of them turning it into a racial confrontation. If I had called apartment security on them, like I eventually did with the white guys, after they ignored our repeated requests to stop banging on the floor, etc., would they have confronted me in the parking lot with a smartphone camera, calling me a racist, and distributing it to social media, and turning me into a racist pariah? (That griping white woman’s life must be miserable today, now that she’s become a meme.)

Who wants that? I notice that the many places on the Internet celebrating the public shaming of the white woman never stop to ask whether or not this is proportionate to her offense. They’ve taken a petty tyrant and, through social media amplification, made her into a monster. At the beginning of the video, I did not expect to get to the end pitying the woman, who ought to have left the grillers alone. But it’s easy to imagine yourself tormented by a harridan like Michelle Snider, the woman with the camera phone — and knowing what came next for her (national infamy, thanks to social media), it’s pretty horrifying.

If you read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s big book, you’ll recall an incident in which he was riding an escalator in a Manhattan movie theater with his little boy, and an elderly white woman gave the kid a shove, telling him to move along. TNC — who is quite tall — went ballistic on the old lady, and was so threatening that someone else in the crowd said he was going to call the police. What’s so bizarre about the incident was that Coates frames it entirely as an example of white racism threatening blacks, and believes that his reaction was entirely appropriate.  Here’s the passage from the book:

You were almost five years old. The theater was crowded, and when we came out we rode a set of escalators down to the ground floor. As we came off, you were moving at the dawdling speed of a small child. A white woman pushed you and said, “Come on!” Many things now happened at once. There was the reaction of any parent when a stranger lays a hand on the body of his or her child. And there was my own insecurity in my ability to protect your black body. And more: There was my sense that this woman was pulling rank. I knew, for instance, that she would not have pushed a black child out on my part of Flatbush, because she would be afraid there and would sense, if not know, that there would be a penalty for such an action. But I was not out on my part of Flatbush. And I was not in West Baltimore. And I was far from the Mecca. I forgot all of that. I was only aware that someone had invoked their right over the body of my son. I turned and spoke to this woman, and my words were hot with all of the moment and all of my history. She shrunk back, shocked. A white man standing nearby spoke up in her defense. I experienced this as his attempt to rescue the damsel from the beast. He had made no such attempt on behalf of my son. And he was now supported by other white people in the assembling crowd. The man came closer. He grew louder. I pushed him away. He said, “I could have you arrested!” I did not care. I told him this, and the desire to do much more was hot in my throat.

In my review of the book, I commented on this passage:

TNC says that the only thing that stopped him from getting violent was knowing that his little boy was watching him. He says he tells this story out of shame that his actions that day put his child in danger of watching the NYPD “cuff, club, tase, and break” his father.

This is such a revealing anecdote. Living in New York means having to deal with crotchety, pushy old people. We lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for five years. This was a fact of daily life. It is not at all shocking that a pushy old lady on the Upper West Side overstepped her bounds with a child. The woman was wrong to do so, but Ta-Nehisi Coates made her bear the weight of 400 years of white supremacy, or at least the anger of a grown man who had been raised in the ghetto. No wonder she shrunk back, shocked. And if I saw a young man speaking with hot anger to an old lady in a public place, I would likely step forward to defend her too. But TNC interprets that as a white man exercising racial solidarity, and choosing the old woman over his son. Maybe the white man did not see what the old lady had done to TNC’s son. TNC does not tell us. TNC concedes that he reacted with rage, and that he shoved the white man back. In what world is this an acceptable response to a minor incident? For TNC, the penny-ante rudeness of an old woman in the lobby of a Manhattan movie theater is the showdown at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He connects that grumpy woman’s action to Jim Crow and slavery.

More darkly, TNC openly fantasizes about how the old woman’s pushiness would have been kept in check had she been in a black neighborhood, because of fear. Well. For one thing, does TNC imagine that white children in New York are immune from the rudeness of crotchety old folks? Does he think that the worldview Eddie Murphy parodied in this 1984 short film on SNL is real? And what would he have seen done to the old white lady had she laid her hands on his son in Flatbush, knowing as we do that he has a tendency to see those he associates with the white world and its institutions as inhuman?

The old white lady on the escalator was a scapegoat. So too is the busybody white woman in the Oakland park. I thought the black community’s response to this — lots of families coming to that same park with their charcoal grills for a massive party — was inspired. More grilled meats for more people! But it’s hard to see this whole thing as anything but a defeat for civility, all the way around. Escalating every unpleasant run-in between blacks and whites — ordinary things that happen as people rub up against each other with sharp edges — into a civil rights showdown is a good way to keep people fearful and suspicious of each other across racial lines.

UPDATE: I should have emphasized more strongly that Michelle Snider, with her camera and access to social media, is also a tyrant. The unnamed white woman who tried to ruin a barbecue is guilty of only that: trying to ruin a barbecue. Vengeful Michelle Snider may have all but ruined a life.

UPDATE.2: Reader Done writes:

[Note to Rod: This is gonna be a rant, so feel free to edit or even toss. I’ll understand.]

Ok, I’ve read most of the comments. Clearly, none of you live in Oakland. If you did, I’m certain your reactions to this incident would be different – if you were sane, that is. I know because I lived there for over 20 years, including near Lake Merritt – the location of this incident.

First, let’s dispense with the notion that this was a racially motivated incident between a white woman and some black folks. This lady is NOT white. Repeat after me: This lady is NOT white. It is clear to me from her facial features and body type that her racial and ethnic background is mixed – possibly white and Pacific Islander – which would not be uncommon in the Bay Area. When you live in a racially and ethnically diverse area for a long time, you begin to detect and distinguish ethnic and racial differences (and any combinations thereof) that often go unnoticed by people who have not been exposed to such racial and ethnic diversity. Plus, she’s not old. She’s in her 30s. As if that even matters – yeesh!

Second, I’m gonna play the sex card here – even though I don’t normally do this but whoa, the comments here are pretty, well, sexist. Nosy? Busybody? Killjoy? Petty? Grouchy? Old? Oh sure, she’s a regular Mrs. Kravitz (Google the reference if you don’t get it)! Yeah, I’m fairly certain most of you wouldn’t have used those words to describe her if she were man. Why don’t you just toss in “frigid” for good measure. Just saying…

Next. Let me explain to everyone how things work in Oakland – they don’t. Nobody and I mean nobody respects common courtesy and the rule of law, not to mention bothers to comport themselves appropriately in public spaces. The area around Lake Merritt is in complete chaos. All. The. Time. Why was this “petty” “nosy” “busybody” so-called “white” woman calling the police over such a seemingly innocuous incident as people wanting to barbecue using charcoal? Um, maybe because the City of Oakland is located in a severe, high fire danger area and it’s against the law! Oakland Hills fire of 1991 anyone? Google images. I survived it.

And why does a citizen have to report someone breaking the law? Because people regularly, openly and brazenly break the law in Oakland and asking them “nicely” to desist DOES NOT WORK. And what does the Oakland PD do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s why she was waiting over 2 hours for the police to respond. I’m surprised they came at all! My car was stolen and did the police come when I reported it? No. A woman was being attacked in front of my house and her attacker was also threatening me and it took the Oakland PD over 45 minutes to respond as I begged the 911 operator for help. On a separate occasion, I awoke one morning to find a man lying face down in my front yard. I thought he was dead. I called Oakland PD. They told me to take his pulse (!) to see if he was alive and that they’d come when they could – priorities you know! They arrived about 40 minutes later. He was still alive, but who knows what would have happened if it took them another 40 minutes. Another time, I came home early and interrupted some miscreants burgling my neighbor’s house and they threatened to kill me. Oakland PD did respond to that – I guess because I was almost killed. Oh there’s more: My other neighbor was carjacked with her baby in the car. Another elderly neighbor was robbed at gunpoint. My co-worker was also mugged – in broad daylight by three young thugs not more than two blocks from Lake Merritt, the location of the barbecue incident and did the police come? No. Did anyone intervene and help my co-worker? No. Oakland, especially the area around Lake Merritt, is in a state of complete lawlessness. And no one cares. In fact, the lawlessness is celebrated as a kind of teenage, immature, passive aggressive rebelliousness. You can’t tell me what to do! Especially if you’re white – because that’s, you know, intrinsically racist. Their sad battle cry…..

What I see from this video is a relatively reserved woman reporting illegal behavior and being absolutely HARANGUED by the woman filming the incident who assumed (1) that the first woman was white and (2) that she was motivated by racial animus and not genuine concern for safety and the rule of law. O. M. G. Are you kidding me? The woman who filmed the incident and browbeat the other woman to tears should be ashamed of herself. I think her behavior even meets the requirements of menacing. But this is where we are now. Everything’s a racial incident which is then quickly followed by SJW virtue signaling. PC BS run amok. And now this poor woman is being viciously attacked on social media. Have you seen the memes? They’re brutal. She’s bullied and dehumanized in a thousand different ways as only the merciless internet can do. And why? Because everyone’s decided she’s an entitled white busybody b*@%h. And what’s Oakland’s response? Classic identity politics. Protests and parties in support of the supposed aggrieved folks who, btw, were actually breaking the law. And that’s exactly why I left Oakland. It’s hell on earth. God help us because as the saying goes, so goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. Civility and decency are dead in Oakland. They’re dead in California and they’re soon to be dead in the entire United States.

Postscript: Since I have many friends who still live in Oakland, I just recently returned from a visit. While there, a young Latino man was murdered in cold blood in broad daylight on my friends’ street while we were all home. The shots just missed his pregnant sister. I couldn’t look outside but my friend did – she saw the body in the street. And guess where this happened? Just a few blocks from Lake Merritt – the site of this infamous barbecue incident.

Keep it up Oakland! Pretty soon, there won’t be one decent, law abiding citizen left because lawlessness and incivility are rewarded and responsible citizenship is vilified.

Any Oakland or former Oakland readers want to challenge this?