Monday morning, 25 May 2020: Christian Cooper is out bird watching in The Ramble, deep in New York’s Central Park. Also in The Ramble that morning is a woman whose dog isn’t on a leash – contrary to the park’s rules. The Ramble ecosystem “is a protected area and home to many animals, birds and plants“, and dogs off their leash are a menace.
Christian Cooper calls out to her, “Would you please put your dog on the leash?” She says “no, the dog needs his exercise”, so he starts to video record the conversation on his phone and then asks her again.
This is what happens next:
The woman is Amy Cooper, no relation to Christian, obviously. Until yesterday, she worked for global asset management giant Franklin Templeton as Head of Insurance Portfolio Management and Strategy.
As the clip went viral, Franklin Templeton’s website crashed under the weight of traffic:
The firm quickly put out a note:
And Amy Cooper apologized saying she was not a racist.
It didn’t save her. Last night she was fired.
What on earth happened?!
One hardly knows where to begin. This isn’t Fifties Deep South Mississippi. It’s The Ramble, Central Park, May 2020 and it begs the question, “What exactly unfolded here?” Think about it: Amy Cooper is an experienced, highly-educated, financial services professional whose bio says she has “dedicated her career to delivering and executing investment solutions for insurance and pension funds globally.” She attended Chicago Booth, no less. If you met her at a dinner party, you would find her the epitome of intelligence and sophisticated discourse. If you asked her about her unconscious biases, I am fairly certain ‘racism’ wouldn’t be on her list.
So why, in just a few seconds, would Nice Amy morph into Vicious Amy who says:
“I am going to call the cops. I’m going to tell them there’s an African American who is threatening my life.”Amy Cooper Central Park New York May 2020
Why would she deliberately try to get an innocent man arrested (very best case scenario) or shot (central case scenario)? (Because, let’s not kid ourselves, when a white woman dials 911 and screams down the phone to the cops that a black man is threatening her in Central Park, she is fully aware of the likely outcome.)
The superficial answer is that she was extremely angry. A crimson-red mist had descended and her inner chimp went nuts. But why? It all seems to have been pretty innocuous up to that point. Bird-loving guy in Central Park just says could you put your dog on the leash please.
I suppose it was, first, because she objected to being called out over the dog leash and, second, because she was being filmed without her consent. But that doesn’t really get anywhere close to the heart of explaining her behaviour in those 69 seconds.
In an act of calculated malignancy, Amy Cooper tells the 911 operator “he’s African American“. Repeatedly. She’s saying to the operator by the words she is using and the rising hysteria in her voice: “I am in fear of my life. And, by the way, listen up, ….. he’s BLACK!“
Her message is clear. Send cops with guns. Now. Tell them to do what they have to do!
She is not in fear of her life. Nowhere close. She’s light years away from being in fear of her life. But she is enraged and she presses the nuclear button.
The inescapable conclusion is that Amy Cooper was enraged at being called out and (as he films her breaking the law) having her privacy invaded by a black man. Not only that; he dared to answer her back and wasn’t intimidated. On the contrary, he was cool, calm and polite.
Amy Cooper was so angry that, in what is always referred to as “a moment of madness“, she completely lost all reason and, in the red mist, attempted to contrive a situation in which Christian Cooper might get shot. She was, as the lawyers would say, reckless in the extreme. And all the time, her pet dog was twisting and choking as she held it off the ground by its collar.
I am burn’d up with inflaming wrath;
A rage whose heat hath this condition,
That nothing can allay, nothing but bloodKing John Act 3 Scene 1 – Shakespeare
The troubling thought many black people are left with (and, watching the Amy Cooper clip, you can see why) is this:
Maybe, Amy Cooper just shone a bright and uncomfortable spotlight into the dark recesses of 76.4% of the US population and, maybe, like the virus, it’s everywhere. Worldwide.
I mean, perhaps they won’t all completely lose it like Amy Cooper, and try to get you shot or arrested-for-no-good-reason; maybe they won’t say anything at all in the moment. But, I’d love to know how many white people can honestly stand up and say that they never, ever, deep down, find themselves burn’d up with that inflaming wrath, viewing people of colour through a lens of darkness.
Until we talk about this and recognize that racism is a multi-strain pandemic virus, nothing’s ever going to change. This strain of racism is deadly and it’s global. People are infected with it and they don’t even know. They show no symptoms until the disease has taken hold. Washing your hands won’t help. There’s no reliable test and there’s no vaccine. As a result, a lot of people die unnecessarily.
Footnote 1 Overt racism is standard stuff in the US; an endemic, established virus. I guess it always has been; but it seems (no surprise) to be getting worse. Obama flattened the curve but, in recent years, it’s started to rise steeply again.
On the point about black people answering back and the disproportionate reaction it triggers, watch this:
And, even as I write, news just in that George Floyd a black man in Minneapolis died on Monday after a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes for “resisting arrest”. I had tears rolling down my face watching this video. It is shocking viewing.
Footnote 2 Here’s Christian Cooper talking about birds
Footnote 3 To those of you who think the burning cross cover-imagery of this piece is a bit much, please know that, left unchecked, all the strains of the racism virus ultimately converge in their apotheosis to produce the same end result. This episode probably almost had a tragic ending. And we would never have known.
UPDATE 27 May 2020
Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey steps up and stands out. In the darkness, some light
Reckless: (adjective) something that is done foolishly, carelessly, or without thinking about the consequences. An example of behaviour that would be described as reckless driving is driving at 110 miles per hour down a highway with a speed limit of 55.
Karens: (noun) US slang for privileged white women. For example: “Oh, when Karens take their dogs off leash in famous … Central Park …“
Other stuff I’ve written:
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