White Woman Who Called Police On Black Bird-Watcher In Central Park Has Been Fired

May 26, 2020
Originally published on May 27, 2020 12:15 pm

Updated at 7:58 p.m. ET

A black man says he asked a white woman in Central Park to put her dog on a leash.

Then, video shows, she called the police and told emergency operators that the man was threatening her and her dog. The woman, who has been identified as Amy Cooper, has apologized. But by Tuesday afternoon, she was fired from her job at an investment management firm, the employer said.

The man who shot the video of the encounter, Christian Cooper, told NPR Tuesday evening, what the woman did was "pretty crappy without a doubt." But, he wonders whether the response to her actions was "really proportionate."

"I'm not sure that her one minute of poor decision-making, bad judgment and, without question, racist response necessarily has to define her completely," Christian Cooper said.

Her now former employer, Franklin Templeton, said in a statement posted to Twitter she had been fired, less than a day after announcing she was placed on administrative leave.

"Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton," the company said.

After video of the encounter was posted to social media, Amy Cooper said her behavior was "unacceptable."

"And you know words are just words and I can't undo what I did. But I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone. Especially to that man, his family," she said in an interview with NBC New York on Monday evening.

NPR has requested comment from Amy Cooper but she has not immediately responded.

Christian Cooper said he found the level of attention his recorded interaction with the woman is "a little stunning" and also expressed empathy for Amy Cooper.

"It makes me concerned because if it was this stunning for me, I can only imagine what it must have been like for Ms. Cooper," Christian Cooper said.

"I know I'm not supposed to feel that way, but, you know, it's got to be harsh."

Video of the encounter

Since Christian Cooper recorded part of their encounter Monday, it has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media.

The Ramble is a wooded area of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed. According to Christian Cooper, he started recording after asking the woman to leash her dog.

The woman is seen in the video approaching the man, holding the dog's leash in one hand and pulling her dog by the collar with her other hand.

"Please don't come close to me," he says, appearing not to move toward her or to retreat.

As she approaches, she tells him she is going to take a picture of him and call police if he didn't stop recording her.

Christian Cooper tells her calmly, "Please call the cops. Please call the cops."

"I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life," she responds.

She backs away from him and places the call while continuing to drag the dog by its collar.

"I'm in the Ramble, and there's a man, African American, he's got a bicycle helmet. He's recording me and threatening me and my dog," she said.

She repeats herself once more, though Christian Cooper never appears to come any closer to her.

By the third time, she is yelling into the phone with far more panic in her voice.

"I'm sorry. I can't hear. Are you there? I'm being threatened by a man into the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately!" she screams.

The aftermath of the incident

In a statement to CNN, Amy Cooper said, "I'm not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way," adding she also didn't intend to hurt the African American community.

The encounter is being highlighted as another example of a white person calling law enforcement to report black people for doing seemingly banal things.

"Obviously, I was aware of what the threat was," Christian Cooper said to NPR.

"She was threatening to bring the machine that has so long ground us black people to powder ... solely on the basis of our black skin, down on my head on the word of, you know, an innocent young white woman."

He said in the moment he had a choice, "participate in my own dehumanization" or continue recording until the dog was on the leash.

That is where the video that runs roughly 70 seconds ends, with Amy Cooper putting the leash on her dog and Christian Cooper saying, "Thank you."

Amy Cooper's dog with rescue group

Amy Cooper's dog has been "voluntarily surrendered," according to statement posted on Facebook by the Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue Inc.

"As of this evening, the owner has voluntarily surrendered the dog in question to our rescue while this matter is being addressed," the group said.

The dog was adopted from the rescue a few years ago, the group added. It reported the dog is "safe and in good health" and said it will not be making any further statements on the matter.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Christian Cooper was doing what he had done so many times before, bird-watching in New York City's Central Park. His excursion took a dark turn during a confrontation with a white woman. Cooper, a black man, insisted that she abide by the rules and put her dog on a leash. She got angry. He started recording on his phone. She insisted that he stop, and the situation escalated. NPR's Brakkton Booker has more.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: The mourning warbler - that's the migratory bird that brought Christian Cooper to New York's Central Park. There, disagreements between dog owners and bird-watchers are common. But he says encounters like what happened Monday morning are not.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIAN COOPER: Please don't come close to me.

AMY COOPER: Then I'm taking a picture and calling the cops.

C COOPER: Please call the cops. Please call the cops.

A COOPER: I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life.

C COOPER: Please tell them whatever you like.

BOOKER: Moments after, it becomes clear the man will not stop filming. The woman calls 911 with panic in her voice. She alerts the emergency operator that she's in a wooded area of the park called the Ramble.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A COOPER: I'm sorry. I can't hear you either. I'm being threatened by a man into the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately.

BOOKER: She repeated this three times in the video, but the man is never heard yelling or seen approaching her as she backed away from him.

The woman has been identified as Amy Cooper. She's not related to the man she called the police on, Christian Cooper. NPR reached out to her but did not immediately get a response. Earlier, she spoke to NBC New York and described her behavior as unacceptable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A COOPER: You know, and words are just words. And I can't undo what I did, but I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family.

BOOKER: Christian Cooper says Amy Cooper was sending a clear message to police.

C COOPER: You know, she was threatening to bring the machine that has so long ground us black people to powder down on my head. So, yeah, that is bound to make any African American person nervous.

BOOKER: Since the video was first posted, it has been shared more than 3 million times. Amy Cooper's employer, the investment firm Franklin Templeton, released a statement saying she has been terminated, adding, quote, "We do not tolerate racism of any kind." Christian Cooper says he's not spoken to the woman since their encounter. He wonders, though, if the reaction to what she did was proportionate.

C COOPER: If I'm being 100% honest, it makes me concerned because if it was this stunning for me, I can only imagine what it must have been like for Ms. Cooper. So I know I'm not supposed to feel that way, but, you know, it's got to be harsh.

BOOKER: And while he says she played on racist fears, he's not sure it should mark her forever.

C COOPER: You know, I'm not sure that her one minute of poor decision-making, bad judgments and, without question, racist response necessarily has to define her completely, you know?

BOOKER: Asked if he thinks she should get her job back, he responds, I'm not making that determination. He adds, it's worthwhile for everyone to take a moment and just breathe.

Brakkton Booker, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.