White Woman Apologizes for Calling Police on Black Man in Central Park

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The encounter appears to have begun as one of those banal and brusque dust-ups between two New Yorkers. A black man, an avid birder, said he had asked a white woman to leash her dog in Central Park. She refused.

Then the encounter, which was recorded on video, took an ugly turn.

As the man, Christian Cooper, filmed on his phone, the woman, clutching her thrashing dog, calls the police, her voice rising in hysteria.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she says to him while dialing, then repeats to the operator, “He’s African-American.”

The video, posted to Twitter on Memorial Day, has been viewed more than 20 million times, touching off intense discussions about the history of the police being falsely called on black people, sometimes putting their lives in danger.

Shortly after the video was posted by the man’s sister on Monday, someone who said they had been the white woman’s dog walker identified her. The woman’s name, Amy Cooper, soon began trending on Twitter.

By evening, Ms. Cooper was placed on leave by her employer, Franklin Templeton, while the incident was being investigated. Ms. Cooper, who is not related to Mr. Cooper, heads insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, according to her LinkedIn page, and graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Internet sleuths digging into Ms. Cooper’s life found an Instagram profile of her cocker spaniel mix and began sharing old photos documenting injuries the dog had suffered.

By nightfall, she had surrendered the dog, Henry, to the group she had adopted him from two years prior, according to a Facebook post by the group, Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue.

Ms. Cooper apologized on Monday, according to NBC, but denied being racist.

“I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family,” she said to the network. “It was unacceptable and I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video, everyone that’s been offended … everyone who thinks of me in a lower light and I understand why they do.”

Speaking to CNN, Mr. Cooper said he would accept the apology “only if it is genuine and if she plans on keeping her dog on a leash going forward.”

Ms. Cooper and Mr. Cooper did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The police said they had responded to the report of an assault at about 8:10 a.m.

“Upon arrival, police determined two individuals had engaged in a verbal dispute,” said Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department. No summons were issued and there was no arrest made.

Mr. Cooper, who works in communications and graduated from Harvard, according to his LinkedIn profile, included his account of the conversation that took place before he began filming.

First he asked her to leash her dog, he said. She refused.

“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 told her, according to his post.

Mr. Cooper, who is on the board of the New York City Audubon Society, then produced dog treats, which he explained, he carries because it forces owners to leash their dogs to prevent the animal from snacking.

“I pull out the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence,” he wrote. “That’s when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn,” he said, using the name Karen, which has become slang for an entitled white woman.

Adding to the fractiousness of the exchange is a long history of tension between birders and dog walkers in Central Park, magnified by the fraught climate of the pandemic lockdown. At one point Ms. Cooper, wearing a face mask, lunges toward Mr. Cooper, a behavior that some who viewed the video have called an assault, because of the violation of social distancing that occurs.

“It was particularly a punch in the gut for a lot of people,” said Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. “It ties into and taps into a long history of white women in particular falsely accusing black men of crimes that leads to great harm.”

Professor Russell-Brown is the author of “The Color of Crime,” in which she explores the phenomenon of the “racial hoax” in which people fabulate crimes perpetrated by people of another race.

“This is deeply offensive,” she said. “Particularly as we are in a climate writ large of the expendability of black and brown lives in the midst of Covid-19.”

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