Prior to 11:20 AM PST Sunday, April 29th 2018, the life of an Oakland woman named Dr. Jennifer Schulte was such that no one, save for her friends and co-workers, knew who she was. The terms “celebrity” and “public figure” could not be used to describe her. You would know she was white only if you personally knew her.
But after that point in time, Dr. Jennifer Schulte’s life changed.
For some reason still not known to the public (and maybe not really known to herself) the woman named Doctor Jennifer Schulte elected to walk on the sidewalk of Lakeshore Avenue next to Lake Merritt and pick out a group of mostly African American Oaklanders who were preparing to hold a barbecue picnic. Why? Ostensibly, to express her anger with them and then call the Oakland Police Department, and all just for using a charcoal grill to prepare their meat.
Dr. Schulte’s reportedly aggressive way with the group prompted an Oaklander named Michelle Snider (who goes by Michelle Dione on YouTube) to use her smartphone to record Dr. Schulte’ and ask her a series of questions regarding why she was spending time harrassing her husband Mr. Kenzie Smith, and calling Oakland Police on what really was a non-existent issue.
The video Ms. Snider uploaded to YouTube that day gave a very rare public look at an incident of racism toward African Americans that’s regularly talked about in black homes and friendship circles. But thanks to Ms. Snider, what was once only seen by blacks was viewed angrily by many, regardless of color, and without respect to location. The video that’s now gained over 2 million views on YouTube, has been seen worldwide and has played a major role in the ever-evoling conversation about race in America, and cast a light on a problem of whites calling the police in Oakland on blacks for actions that are common in life: like grilling meat next to Lake Merritt as part of a picnic.
The video’s propagation made the previously unknown Dr. Jennifer Schulte known, and now the words “celebrity” and “public figure” can be used in describing her. But what can’t be used in writing a description about Dr. Schulte is the title “Stanford Professor.” That’s what the public generally believed she was after her now-deleted Linkedin page was discovered.
But, the public didn’t read her Linkedin page completely and only assumed she was a Stanford instructor because she received her graduate degree, a doctorate, from what’s localled called “The Farm”. But, according to Parker Riley of News One, and Stanford’s own Twitter account, Stanford reported that “According to our records, a person by this name earned graduate degrees at Stanford more than a decade ago. She is not currently employed as staff or as a faculty member.”
While her role at Stanford was questioned by the public, the Oakland Police Officers who answered her 911 call had questions about her mental health. According to the police incident report that was made public on May 18th, the officers had Dr. Schulte stick around to talk with them to determine if she was eligible for what’s called a “5150 Hold”. That was because the officers had, as reported in the police report, believed she “sounded 5150.” The question is, what’s 5150 mean?
5150, and the “5150 Hold” refers to California legislation called the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act. According to Wikipedia, the “bill was co-authored by California State Assemblyman Frank D. Lanterman (R) and California State Senators Nicholas C. Petris (D) and Alan Short (D), and signed into law in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan.” And the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act defines the term “5150” as refering to a code that gives police the ability to order an involuntary three-day hold in a psychiatric facility, and for evaluation.
In other words, the Oakland Police Officers talking to Dr. Schulte were considering taking her to a mental ward, but determined that she reportedly “didn’t fit the criteria” – what that “ criteria” was or is, is not known as of this writing.
What is known is that now, Dr. Jennifer Schulte is not just a house-hold name, celebrity, and public figure, but an Internet meme. She’s now the universal symbol of white fears of anything a black person does, from marrying Prince Harry to graduating from college. The image of her using her cellphone and under her sunglases even wound up on Saturday Night Live, as SNL cast member Aidy Bryant played her, dressed as she was on that April 29th day.
And Dr. Schulte seemingly can’t go anywhere without being immediately spotted and recognized if she’s wearing her equally famous sunglasses. On May 15th, A person on Twitter who goes by @OsagieTheGreat spotted her with bags at Oakland Airport and wrote “Probably the first time there has been repercussions for calling the police on innocent black people. Dr. Jennifer Theresa Schulte flying outta OAK! I guess the BBQ got too hot. Raked her over the coals. She’s never going to stop wearing shades.”
Or, maybe she will.