Video of white woman calling police on black man in Central Park draws outrage

Footage of a confrontation between a black birdwatcher and a white dog walker in Central Park in New York has gone viral, reigniting national debate over everyday racism and a social media storm.

The incident follows other infamous instances of white people calling the police after coming upon black people doing everyday things such as jogging, being in the park or the street, having a swim, holding a barbecue or merely gardening.

In the latest incident, which happened at around 8.30am on Monday, the Memorial Day holiday, an African American man, Christian Cooper, was in a patch of dense trees and shrubs known as the Ramble, which is popular with bird watchers and where signs say dogs must be kept on a leash.

When Cooper asked a woman to leash her exuberant dog, she said she would call the police.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said.

As the woman became agitated, Cooper remained calm and recorded part of the incident. Posted to Twitter by his sister, Melody Cooper, the footage was viewed more than 20m times.

Christian Cooper described the beginning of the encounter, which was not recorded, in a post on Facebook. He said he saw the dog “tearing through the plantings” and told the owner dogs should be leashed at all times, noting: “The sign is right there.” After an exchange of remarks, he began recording.

The video starts with the woman, who is wearing a face mask, saying: “Sir, I’m asking you to stop.”

She approaches him, dragging the struggling dog by its collar. He says: “Please don’t come close to me.” New York City is still under stay-at-home and social distancing orders amid the coronavirus crisis.

The woman, later identified as Amy Cooper, asks the man to turn his phone off, then says: “I’m calling the cops.”

Christian Cooper responds: “Please call the cops.”

The woman says: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

He says: “Tell them whatever you like.”

Apparently reaching an operator, Amy Cooper says: “There is a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet, he is recording me and threatening me and my dog.”

She wrestles the dog, which struggles and appears to be having difficulty breathing. Raising her voice, she backs away. Christian Cooper remains still.

In an agitated voice, Amy Cooper says: “I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately.” She then fixes a leash to the dog’s collar.

Christian Cooper says “Thank you” and ends the recording.

On Tuesday morning, Cooper spoke to the Washington Post, which described him as a 57-year-old science editor.

“I don’t think there’s an African American person in America who hasn’t experienced something like this at some point,” he said.

Cooper said he often asks dog owners to put the leash on in the Ramble.

“I don’t shy away from confronting the scofflaw when I see it,” he said, using a local term for someone who ignores laws which are hard to enforce. “Otherwise, the park would be unusable – not just to us birders but to anybody who enjoys the beauty.”

Asked about the woman’s decision to call the police, he said: “I can be racially intimidated and kowtow to her [but] I’m not going to participate in my own dehumanization.”

Police officers attended the call but said no summonses or arrests were made over what the New York police department called “a verbal dispute”.

Amy Cooper was put on administrative leave by her employer on Monday, the investment firm Franklin Templeton, which said it was investigating.

“We take these matters very seriously,” the firm said, “and we do not condone racism of any kind.”

By Tuesday afternoon she had been fired.

Franklin Templeton
(@FTI_US)

Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.

May 26, 2020

The incident stoked a fierce backlash on social media. Franklin Leonard, a film executive and founder of The Black List, which ranks the most popular screenplays of the year that Hollywood fails to turn into films, saw insidious racial bias at work.

“How many times has Amy Cooper said behind closed doors that a black co-worker ‘wasn’t a team player, ‘isn’t one of us, ‘made her uncomfortable’,” he asked. “How many times has she just not been able to put her finger on it, but just doesn’t think they’re the right candidate for the job?

Amy Cooper spoke to NBC.

“I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family,” she said. “It was unacceptable and I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video, everyone that’s been offended.

“When I think about the police, I’m such a blessed person. I’ve come to realise especially today that I think of [the police] as a protection agency, and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there are so many people in this country that don’t have that luxury.”

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