A run-in between a bird watcher and a woman who refused to leash her dog escalated quickly. While walking through Central Park, Christian Cooper, a black man, came across a white woman and her off-leash spaniel. When he asked her to put her dog on a leash, as required by law, she responded that she would call the police and tell them “an African-American man is threatening me.” In video Cooper took of the exchange, he told her she could tell the police whatever she wanted.
She did. After dialing 911, she told a dispatcher, “There’s a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” As she spoke, the woman held her dog by the collar and kept its front legs lifted off the ground as it flailed wildly. She continued, “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately!” As she was on the phone, the woman clipped a leash onto the dog’s collar, at which point Cooper said “thank you” and turned off the camera.
If the woman expected the encounter to end there, she was wrong. Cooper’s sister posted the video to social media Sunday night, and as of Tuesday morning it had been shared more than 163,000 times on Twitter alone.
After the video was posted to Twitter, someone claiming to be the woman’s dog-walker identified her as Amy Cooper of New York (no relation to the man she accosted). As of Monday night, Amy Cooper has been placed on leave by her employer, the global investment firm Franklin Templeton, which manages more than $700 billion in assets. She also reportedly surrendered her dog back to the rescue agency she’d adopted him from. In a Facebook post, the Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue wrote, “He is safe and in good health.”
Cooper has since defended herself to CNN, saying, “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way.” Speaking to NBC New York, “I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video,” adding, “I’ve come to realize 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.”
Many people aren’t buying her apology or explanation though, especially in light of the all the well-publicized examples of police shooting unarmed black people in all kinds of non-threatening situations, like playing in a public park, standing in their own bedrooms or simply lying facedown on the ground.