A verbal dispute between a white woman walking her dog and a black man birdwatching in New York’s Central Park might normally have gone unnoticed in a city preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic.
That changed when birdwatcher Christian Cooper pulled out his phone and captured Amy Cooper calling police to report she was being threatened by “an African American man.”
The widely watched video — posted on Facebook by Christian Cooper and on Twitter by his sister Melody — has sparked accusations of racism, including from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“The video out of Central Park is racism, plain and simple,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “She called the police BECAUSE he was a Black man. Even though she was the one breaking the rules. She decided he was the criminal and we know why.”
The confrontation began early Monday morning when Christian Cooper said he noticed Amy Cooper had broken park rules by letting her dog off its leash in the Ramble, a secluded section of Central Park popular with birdwatchers.
GRAPHIC WARNING | Christian Cooper’s video of the incident:
In a Facebook post, he claimed the dog was “tearing through the plantings” and said he told her she should go to another part of the park. When she refused, Christian Cooper pulled out dog treats, causing her to scream at him to not come near her dog.
Amy Cooper also warned him she would summon police unless he stopped recording.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” Amy Cooper is heard saying in the video as she pulls down her face mask and struggles to control her dog.
“Please call the cops,” Christian Cooper says.
My brother & I are so grateful for your concern! He is fine and left to continue birding after she leashed the dog, as he politely requested. I wanted folks to know what happened to make sure it never happens again from her. All she had to do was put her poor dog on the leash.
During the call, she can be heard saying, “There’s an African American man, I’m in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog. Please send the cops immediately!”
Police say by the time they responded, they were both gone.
“I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things,” Christian Cooper told CNN. “Unfortunately, we live in an era with things like Ahmaud Arbery, where black men are seen as targets. This woman thought she could exploit that to her advantage, and I wasn’t having it.”
Amy Cooper told CNN that she wanted to “publicly apologize to everyone,” adding, “I am not a racist.”
“I think I was just scared,” Amy Cooper said. “When you’re alone in the Ramble, you don’t know what’s happening. It’s not excusable, it’s not defensible.”
Social media firestorm
The video has been widely shared and commented upon on social media.
Sen. Kamala Harris said on Twitter that the incident was a “sad reality” that has “gone on for generations to Black Americans.”
Here’s the sad reality: what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery & Christian Cooper has gone on for generations to Black Americans. Cell phones just made it more visible.<br><br>Dismantling systemic racism in our nation starts with demanding justice & holding offenders accountable.
Some Twitter users managed to figure out that Amy Cooper worked at investment firm Franklin Templeton, which announced on Tuesday it has fired her.
“We do not tolerate racism of any kind,” the company tweeted.
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.
The organization Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue said in a Facebook post that Amy Cooper “voluntarily surrendered the dog” after the public reached out to them about the incident. Many Twitter users said that she appeared to be inadvertently choking the dog during the dispute.
“The dog is now in our rescue’s care and he is safe and in good health,” Abandoned Angels said.