An interaction between a black male birder and a white woman walking her dog in Central Park early Monday morning went viral after the woman called the police on the man when he admonished her for disobeying park rules by allowing her dog off the leash in a protected area of the park. Christian Cooper posted a video he took of the Memorial Day interaction that occurred in an interior, wooded portion of Central Park known as the Ramble that is popular with birders. Cooper came across the woman walking her dog between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and pointed out to her that unleashed dogs are not allowed in area, before asking her to put her dog on a leash. When the woman refused, Cooper says he took a dog treat out of his pocket that he carries for just such occasions with recalcitrant dog owners, and gave it to the dog. He then took out his phone and started recording.
The video begins with the woman, later identified as Amy Cooper (no relation), standing some 30 feet away. She takes her dog by the collar and then begins approaching Christian Cooper with her arm up as if to cover the phone lens asking him to stop videoing her. When he calmly refuses, asking her “please don’t come close to me,” presumably for social distancing reasons, she threatened to call the police. “Please call the cops,” he said in response. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she replied. “Please tell them whatever you like,” he said.
Amy Cooper then calls the police on her cellphone, telling them, “I’m sorry, I’m in the Ramble. There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” Christian Cooper, who is standing on a footpath, doesn’t move and continues to record. “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!” the woman says in an increasingly distraught voice. While she’s on the phone with police, she clicks the leash back on her dog. “Thank you,” Christian Cooper says in response to her leashing her dog, as he lowers his phone and stops recording.
The New York Police Department said when officers responded to the call neither Amy Cooper nor Christian Cooper were at the scene. The NYPD said no arrests were made and no complaint was filed for what was determined to be a “verbal dispute.” Christian Cooper explained in interviews afterward that his chief concern was protecting the bird habitat in the park, which he described as “a major birding hotspot. It’s on the Atlantic flyway.” “That’s important to us birders because we know that dogs won’t be off leash at all and we can go there to see the ground-dwelling birds,” Christian Cooper told CNN. “People spend a lot of money and time planting in those areas as well. Nothing grows in a dog run for a reason.” Cooper said he carries dog treats on him when birding in the park because dog owners often disobey posted signs that dogs must be on leashes in the unmanicured, 38-acre Ramble. He said dog owners in his experience don’t like it when strangers feed their dogs and will leash them in response to him doing so.
Amy Cooper, however, responded far differently, threatening not just to call the cops, but using the birder’s race as an implicit trumped-up threat when requesting a police response to being asked to follow the rules and then being recorded for not doing so. “I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things,” Christian Cooper said. “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.”
Amy Cooper framed Christian Cooper’s approach as far more menacing than it appeared on camera but was apologetic after the video was posted and widely condemned on the internet. “I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family,” she told New York’s NBC 4. “It was unacceptable and I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video, everyone that’s been offended.” The blowback however was significant enough by Monday evening that her employer, investment company Franklin Templeton, issued a public statement condemning racism and placing Amy Cooper on administrative leave. “I think I was just scared,” Amy Cooper told CNN. “When you’re alone in the Ramble, you don’t know what’s happening. It’s not excusable, it’s not defensible.” “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way,” she said.