Over Memorial Day weekend, a white woman called law enforcement claiming that a Black man was threatening her in a wooded area of Central Park — but the video taken by the man tells a very different story. While police heard the voice of a woman in distress, the video shows her threatening the man — who was asking her to put her dog on a leash — and saying just before the call, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”
A viral Twitter video circulated on Monday after an encounter earlier that day. Christian Cooper, an avid bird watcher, walked through a quieter part of Central Park known as the Ramble. He came across a woman, later identified as Amy Cooper (no relation), who had her dog off-leash. “That’s important to us birders because we know that dogs won’t be off-leash at all and we can go there to see the ground-dwelling birds,” Christian told CNN.
Although their accounts differ in details, both Christian and Amy confirmed that the dispute began when he asked that the dog run off-leash in a different area of the park. According to Christian’s recounting of the events on his Facebook, the dispute continued and he ultimately said, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.” He then pulled out dog treats, which he said he keeps with him as a way to get dog owners to put their dogs on leashes. Amy reacted by grabbing her struggling dog by the collar and threatening to call police, at which point Christian began filming the exchange. Her voice grew more distressed while on the phone with police, specifically saying that an "African-American man" was "threatening" her.
The New York Police Department reportedly arrived at the scene and neither Christian nor Amy were there. No arrests were made at the time, but reaction to the video on Twitter, which was posted by Christian's sister, garnered over 26 million views and sparked a debate about the history of police being maliciously called on black people without reason, often putting their lives in danger. Queens attorney Tiffany Cabán called out Amy Cooper's actions — and the implications of intentionally calling police on a Black man without cause — as something beyond just racism: "This was an act of violence."
This woman knew exactly what she was doing. And it could have gotten him killed. This was an act of violence. https://t.co/NeQLvw0ToH— Tiffany Cabán (@tiffany_caban) May 26, 2020
What this woman did to her dog was terrible, but can we please recognize that the horrific part is that she intentionally acted in a way she had to have known could get a Black man killed.— Rebecca Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) May 26, 2020
It's the 2020 iteration of what Carolyn Bryant did to Emmett Till. https://t.co/463QoJgqqI
#AmyCooper said, “Her entire life is being destroyed right now.” But she had NO PROBLEM trying to destroy a Black man’s life with her lies. She knew exactly what she was doing and now she is on her “I’m the real victim” tour. https://t.co/lb9mjoOoT4— Hannah Drake (@HannahDrake628) May 26, 2020
As Amy Cooper began trending on Twitter, the video revealed a culture of violence around false calls to police. The U.S. battles a storied history of policing Black men, as well as constant Black deaths across the country as a result of police brutality. Critics have since seen the Amy Cooper video to be just another example of the power white people continue to yield over Black men as not only dangerous, but life-threatening.
"What this woman did to her dog was terrible, but can we please recognize that the horrific part is that she intentionally acted in a way she had to have known could get a Black man killed?" Dr. Rebecca Kavanaugh posted on Twitter.
Christian reacted to the viral video in an interview, stating that it was important to share this footage for his own life. "I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things," he said. "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."
Others found that Cooper's efforts to abuse a 911 call and sound distressed when she was in a completely safe situation to be problematic, too. By Monday evening, Amy was reportedly placed on leave by her employer while the incident was being investigated. She also surrendered her dog — who appeared to be severely struggling in the video — to the rescue she adopted him from two years prior after people commented on the dog's mistreatment. According to a New York Times report, this wasn't the first time her dog suffered injuries, either.
"I'm not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way," Amy said in a public apology. She also told CNN that since the video was posted, her “entire life is being destroyed right now.” But her reputation pales in comparison to what could have happened to Christian Cooper's life. He could have been jailed, imprisoned, or far worse — all because he asked her to put her dog on its leash in an area that requires dogs to be on leash.
Her life has been upended because she falsely reported that a Black man was threatening her, a white woman, when her life was no more in danger than if anyone else had asked her to put her dog back on leash. When she called the police, at least one person was going to have to face the consequences of her actions. Had Christian not filmed the encounter, it could have been him.