Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. This Memorial Day, she unleashed her dog in a part of Central Park where dogs are supposed to be on leashes. As it tore through the planting, she encountered a black male bird-watcher who asked her to follow the rules lest they scare the birds away.
What occurred next — recorded by the bird-watcher, 57-year-old Christian Cooper (no relation), on his phone from several feet away — was one of the most malicious and deliberate performances of victimization I have ever seen.
After demanding that he stop recording, Amy takes several purposeful steps in his direction. When he refuses, and asks that she not come any closer, she then, in a tone that can only be described as whiny and affronted — wait, no, more like the audible version of a child sticking out their tongue in defiance — threatens to call the police.
“Please, call the police,” Christian says, calmly.
“I’m going to tell them that there is an African-American man threatening my life,” she says, rolling her neck and raising her eyebrows almost gleefully. She’s wearing a mask, and though you can’t see her mouth, the “You’ll be sorry” smirk reaches her eyes.
“He is recording me … [and] threatening myself and my dog.” She describes his appearance and repeats a version of this twice more. Bent over, struggling to control the tan dog jostling between her legs, she gasps, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble.” And then she sputters a fear-pitched plea: “Please send the cops immediately.” Christian, meanwhile, remained several feet away.
In that moment, her dog submits. Amy clips on its leash with one hand and drops the phone with the other. “Thank you,” calls Christian.
If it wasn’t a demonstration of deep, callous racism, you might almost expect her to bow.
The video is chilling not because it shows a woman losing her shit but because it revealed that she was aware of the injustices and the systemic racism that threatens black lives and was willing to weaponize it in a heartbeat so that she and her rambunctious dog could have a place to play unchallenged.
It’s a familiar scene. White women have been manipulating the justice system since its inception. (Generations of whippings for looking and lynchings for whistling and incarcerations for false rape accusations all support this.) But is this not the purpose for which the public service was designed — to defend the vulnerabilities and, in this case, inconveniences of white women? Amy seemed to know so, with her charge forward, her knowing smirk. The triumphant announcement that she’d call the cops. The engineered octaves of panic in her voice when they picked up. The practiced calculus: How can I stoke this man’s greatest fear and the police’s worst instincts? Her mastery of whiteness was something to behold.
“I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way,” she told CNN later on (she was fired from her job at investment firm Franklin Templeton and has voluntarily relinquished custody of her pup). Amy joins a sorority of may-I-speak-to-your-manager ladies, the ones trying to huff their way into grocery stores without a mask, the “Karens,” as social media has dubbed them. The severity of the instances varies (the spectrum of entitlement isn’t limited to calling to cops), but they’re connected to the same playbook. Play the victim whenever they feel a person of color is intruding in “their” space — in a park, in a neighborhood, in the spotlight — cocky and certain that things will work out for them by privilege and design.
It’s sometimes comic, the offending subjects meme-ified on Twitter, swiftly mocked, and the chorus celebratory when consequences are actually suffered — in this case, as soon as one day later. But what becomes of all those Amys who don’t get “caught” on video? Amys (and Karens) exist all around us. They do not come from a single geographic region or socioeconomic class or subscribe to a uniform political identity. They could be your boss or your neighbor or your teacher, if disturbed on the wrong day. They know it, and that is the scariest thing.
That neither Amy nor Christian were present when the police arrived doesn’t lessen the possibility — the inevitability — of what that call could have cost. No sooner than I watched this clip did another roll across my screen. In Minneapolis that same day, a 40-something-year-old black man died while under arrest after an officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
A video posted on social media shows George Floyd gasping for breath and appearing to yell “I can’t breathe” in the moments before he fell unconscious. (The officers involved have been fired.) The incident eerily recalls the arrest of Eric Garner in 2014 and his last words during which he pleaded for his life after a policeman held him in a choke hold until he died.
This is what Amy Cooper wanted Christian Cooper to be afraid of.