This image made from Monday, May 25, 2020, video provided by Christian Cooper shows Amy Cooper with her dog talking to Christian Cooper at Central Park in New York. A video of a verbal dispute between Amy Cooper, walking her dog off a leash and Christian Cooper, a black man bird watching in Central Park, is sparking accusations of racism. (Christian Cooper via AP)
Nine months after falsely accusing a Black man of threatening her in Central Park — and becoming an unofficial emblem of the racist, harmful ways white women wield victimhood — Amy Cooper has been cleared of misdemeanor charges. Instead of facing charges, she reportedly attended a restorative justice program “designed not just to punish but to educate and promote community healing,” said Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi. Illuzzi also cited Cooper’s lack of criminal background and “the issues at hand” as reasons for dropping charges against her. But many are now wondering if this is truly just.
In May, Amy Cooper famously called the police after a bird watcher named Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to follow park rules and keep her dog on a leash. “There’s a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet,” she told the NYPD. “He is recording me and threatening me and my dog… I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately.”
Christian recorded the entire incident on his phone, which quickly went viral and ignited a nationwide conversation about the way the police are weaponized against Black Americans. “I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things,” he 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.”
Afterward the video became national news, Cooper lost her job and (temporarily) her dog. She was charged in July for falsely reporting an incident to police in the third degree, and faced up to a year in prison if convicted. “Our Office will pursue a resolution of this case which holds Ms. Cooper accountable while healing our community, restoring justice, and deterring others from perpetuating this racist practice,” wrote District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. in a statement.
Christian, however, declined to participate in the investigation. In a Washington Post op-ed, he wrote that he felt “ambivalent about the prosecution” and believed it more important to focus on the systemic racism and police brutality that led to the encounter in the first place. “Why did Cooper so easily tap into that toxic racial bias in the heat of the moment when she was looking for a leg up in our confrontation?” he asked. “Why is it surprising to no one that the police might come charging to her aid with special vengeance on hearing that an African American was involved?”
This week, Christian said that he was more outraged by current issues — specifically, the fight to make Washington, D.C. a state — than Amy’s punishment, or lack thereof. “That gross racial injustice could be fixed by Congress now, today, and that is what people should be focused on, not last year’s events in Central Park,” he wrote on Tuesday.
Still, there are mixed feelings about the announcement. Many abolitionists have argued against charging Amy, noting that incarceration isn’t justice — and, as Christian pointed out, the situation is representative of a problem much bigger than Amy, one that requires a solution much bigger than one woman’s arrest. But it’s also important to think about who’s continuously afforded the luxury of restorative justice in America.
“As someone who teaches racial bias courses, I am confident in stating that it was ignorant to believe Amy Cooper needed such training,” wrote attorney and broadcast journalist Adrienne J. Lawrence. “Her malicious weaponization of racial bias proves that she’s well-aware of it and knows how it works. She needed punishment, not coddling.”
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