The Covid-19 era which unofficially began on March 1, 2020, continues unabated. Its curve has been flattened, then lifted again. We have slowed down, shut down, been down, got up, re started, and slowed down again. And that's only four months of it. It has produced tragedy and horror, but triumph and kindness also. It has brought out the best and worst in humanity; in short, it's just another test that some will fail and others will not.
But of all the bizarre events of the past four months plus, nothing quite matches the tale of Amy Cooper, the dog walker in Central Park who, in one minute of...something...lost her job, her home, and what remains of a life. Oh yes, and her dog.
In one minute of "something" during a resurgence of Black Lives Matter
It's easy to call what she did that day an atavistic return to racism, and maybe that's what it was. Maybe a moment of panic married to generations of fear and ignorance—and the words just spilled out on a phone call to the police: “I’m in the Ramble, there is a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” Then she adds, “I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!”
That she referred to the man, Christian Cooper, as an African-American could be construed as just something a crime victim might say when giving a description to the police. In fact when she mentions the attack the second time, she leaves that part out. But the point remains, there was no attack, there was no threat, there was a white dog walker and there was a Black birdwatcher in an area of about 850 acres.
It should have been enough room for both of them.
Yesterday Ms. Cooper was issued a desk appearance ticket: she is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 14. It's unlikely she will serve jail time if convicted, more likely there will be community service or counseling in her already muddied future. She's only 41. What do you do with your life if you're a 41-year-old professional and suddenly unemployable? She did a stupid thing, but I hope she will be okay—maybe be better for it.
I blame the proliferation of video for this. I also credit the proliferation of video.
Had there been no video and had this episode ended differently, and if Christian Cooper had been shot dead by an NYPD cop, Ms. Cooper's would have been the story of an attempted rape thwarted by a quick-thinking victim. (Remember, it was only a few months before when Tessa Majors was murdered near Morningside Park in Morningside Heights, not that far away.) Instead Ms. Cooper's story is one of racism deeply ingrained in so many of us that, in a moment of panic, it rises immediately to the surface. If any incident can persuade us of the injustices Black Americans have faced for hundreds of years, it's the panicked phone call of an otherwise decent woman that could easily have resulted in the death of a Black man guilty of nothing.
Amy Cooper is, in the end, another human being who deserves to be treated like one—whose sins must be left behind so that her indiscretion and its aftermath will not have occurred in vain. But she is also a cautionary tale for us all—how many Black Americans are a glance or two away from a panicked phone call and a tragic conclusion?
If you were to list non-threatening pastimes, you'd be hard-pressed to think of any more innocuous than birdwatching. But maybe I should have qualified that—maybe I should have said "non-threatening pastimes for white people." It may very well be that there's no such thing for a Black person.