The black dude in Central Park may have been dangerous. Of course Central Park Amy Cooper had no other choice than to call the cops on him!
That's why she no longer apologizes for what she did - because she's the real victim
This is why we can’t have nice things, y’all.
I just spent nearly an hour and a half listening to this episode of “Honestly,” which is described as explaining the “real story” about what happened in Central Park between the two Coopers, Amy and Christian (no relation), an incident between a white woman and a black man that launched a thousand think pieces in no small part because it happened on the day George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin in Minnesota.
And I read the shorter version of what’s in that podcast here: “The real story of the Central Park ‘Karen’.”
You should listen to the podcast and read that piece before reading mine. I’ll wait…
Why do I say we can’t have nice things? Because these situations frustrate me to no end. I want there to be more nuance in the stories we tell, even the really, really emotional ones - especially the emotional ones - which is what Bari Weiss and Kmele Foster said they were trying to do here. In some ways, they succeeded. In many ways, they failed horrifically. They ended up doing what they criticized the media in general for supposedly doing. They turned Amy Cooper into a flattened version of reality in which she is the real victim and everything she did made sense or shouldn’t be considered racist, at least not really. That’s after careful consideration, they said on the podcast, given that initially they, too, thought Amy Cooper had done something wrong.
“This is a woman who at minimum legitimately has reason to be afraid,” Foster said on the podcast. “Christian has on the other hand practiced this encounter many times before.”
“It’s sensible to suspect she might have been afraid,” Foster said.
For those who need a refresher. A smattering of the headlines, though a quick Google search will provide you more if you think I’m not accurately reflecting what was going on then:
According to Foster’s and Weiss’s retelling, it was Christian Cooper who started the entire encounter, and that he threatened her, not the other way around. What was the threat? He said he would do something she didn’t like - before pulling out a dog treat to attract her dog, which was unleashed in an area of the park where leashes are required. That’s a big thing to birdwatchers like Christian Cooper because dogs, of course, scare off birds. Foster and Weiss made that a central fact in their podcast. Foster recounted how Christian Cooper a few days earlier in a meeting talked about trying to get a bit more aggressive to dissuade dog owners from allowing their dogs to run off leash, including wanting more enforcement and how at least two dog owners had assaulted him as he used the dog treat method on their dogs.
If you listen to the podcast, you’d get the impression that Christian Cooper was out looking for trouble and poor old Amy Cooper just happened to be his victim this time around. At least that’s the impression I was left with. Or to be more generous, had he said something politely and allowed her to re-leash the dog - something Foster claims she was about to do - everything would have ended there.
And according to Amy Cooper, she made the call to the cops not because Christian Cooper was black, but rather because she was a former rape victim alone in a park in the presence of an aggressive black dude. That explains her erratic behavior and why she sounded so terrified on the phone, not because she was playacting. Weiss chimed in to mention the "Me,Too Movement” in reference to that point, which was crystal clear: A white woman who was a survivor of rape felt alone in the park and in the presence of a strange big black dude threatening her. That’s the image we are left.
Amy Cooper’s words to end the podcast:
The first thing she’d tell Christian Cooper if she could speak with him:
“You scared me.”
Does she regret making that phone call:
“He had made two different threats at different times… at some level acted on that threat by calling my dog over, the way he was gripping his bike helmet was terrifying to me. My feelings of being trapped. I don’t know that as a woman alone in a park I had another option.”
Foster asked her again if she still believed making that call was the appropriate move.
“Yes,” she answered in the softest voice possible. It was the last words we’d hear.
Foster said Amy Cooper had become a scapegoat.
During the podcast, Foster said he didn’t “want to cast [Christian Cooper] as a monster” and “it’s very hard for me to put myself in Christian’s shoes” - even though I couldn’t escape the conclusion that yes, in fact, Christian Cooper really is a bad dude. Maybe you’ll hear it differently than I did. But the way he described Christian Cooper’s actions, talked about his background with other dog walkers, said he didn’t understand why a man wouldn’t know a woman would be afraid in such a setting, certainly made Christian Cooper sound like a monster to me.
Others heard it differently and have praised the podcast.
As you’ll see on Weiss’s Twitter timeline:
I call bunk. First, as you’ll notice in the “real story” piece I linked to above, the claim is that the media somehow hid the presence of Christian Cooper’s Facebook post in which he talked about his dog treat technique - even though many people came to the story that way or through something his sister posted.
That’s small potatoes compared to the other glaring omissions. Foster spent a lot of time in the podcast criticizing the media for not providing the context of Christian Cooper’s other encounters and with the growing beef between dog owners and bird watchers. (I’ll let you and your Google search of stories decide how right or wrong he is on that.) But Foster and Weiss failed to mention some of Amy Cooper’s history on this same issue. Maybe I missed the reference to this, but I did not hear Foster or Weiss say anything about this part of Amy Cooper’s background:
It is not possible to determine to what extent recollections of Ms. Cooper’s behavior are now shaded by news of her encounter in Central Park. Still, some residents said they held her at arm’s length because of what they described as her combative behavior with other dog walkers and the building staff.
Another neighbor, Marisol De Leon, 40, said Ms. Cooper frequently walked Henry unleashed, and became irate when told not to. “There was a sense of entitlement,” Ms. De Leon said.
Alison Faircloth, 37, a neighbor and dog owner, recalled that last winter, she came upon Ms. Cooper on the verge of tears outside the building’s lobby. A doorman had cursed at her for no reason, Ms. Cooper told her. Ms. Cooper vowed to get the doorman fired, Ms. Faircloth said.
But when Ms. Faircloth asked the doorman what had happened, he told her that Ms. Cooper had complained about a broken elevator, then cursed at him after she barged into a security booth and had to be removed by a guard.
“There’s always a narrative from her about someone who has done her wrong,” Ms. Faircloth said.
If Foster and Weiss were just earnestly trying to tell a truth, why did they not talk up this part of Amy Cooper’s background as much as they did Christian Cooper’s previous run-ins with dog walkers? Would it have undercut the new narrative they are trying to paint for us now? Or did it just slip their minds?
It got worse when they tried to explain away what was clear in the video, that Amy Cooper was weaponizing race when she told Christian Cooper that she was going to call the cops and tell them that a black dude was threatening her in the park. They first tried to explain away her use of race in the 911 call by saying she had to repeat it because the 911 operator had trouble hearing her clearly. If you listen to the 911 recording, it was clear a miscommunication was going on. That’s a point in favor of Foster and Weiss. Journalists should strive to provide the audience as much context as possible on such stories, and that was the first time I had heard that exchange. But the odd thing is that they came to the conclusion that Amy Cooper was repeating Christian Cooper’s race only because of that miscommunication with the 911 operator by trying to whitewash what Amy Cooper did before she called 911.
Before she was speaking to the operator, before she dialed those three numbers, she pointedly talked about Christian Cooper’s race:
“I’m going to tell them an African-American man is threatening me,” she told Christian Cooper. Again, that was before the call, not during.
How does Amy Cooper explain that to Foster on the podcast:
“I was a woman alone in the park” who had been threatened multiple times, she said. “If it was a white man I would have said ‘white man’. If it was a white woman I would have said ‘white woman’. It’s just a descriptive term.”
Sorry, but that’s just complete and utter nonsense. No one who knows anything about race in such situations would be believe that - except, seemingly, Foster.
To her credit, Weiss asked Foster if he really bought that explanation, believes she is being truthful there.
“I can’t know,” Foster answered. “She doesn’t mention Christian Cooper’s race every time she mentions him to the 911 operator.”
Again, I call complete and utter bunk.
There was no good reason at that point to say anything about Christian Cooper being black. None. Why would she have used a descriptor when it was just her and Christian Cooper at that point? Was she trying to let Christian Cooper know that he was, indeed, a black man, as though he didn’t know it already? Not only that, Foster says nothing about the second call to 911 Amy Cooper made.
That’s where Foster and that podcast lose me. They go to great lengths to tell us how honest they are trying to be. Hell, the podcast is literally called “Honestly”! And yet on one of the most important points, they are clearly not being honest.
I think I know why. Because if they concede the obvious point - that Amy Cooper was clearly weaponizing race - it would have undercut the entire point for the podcast and story. Had she not weaponized her whiteness that way, this would not have become a national story. Period. That’s the foundation of the outrage. The rest is just noise. It’s true that a dispute by two people in Central Park in and of itself is not really news. It’s true that dog walkers and birdwatchers having this weird turf beef going on that most of us didn’t know about and would not have cared about had we known.
As I’ve said on a thousand different occasions, I don’t like people being punished harshly in such situations, even when I think they’ve done something wrong. And yes, to be clear, I absolutely believe it was Amy Cooper who turned this into an event that became a national story, not Christian Cooper.
Even given that, here’s my background: During my time as a columnist, I have written pieces apologizing to white women for not taking time enough to see things from their point-of-view. All I could see were the times they clutched their purses a little tighter as I approached and grew angry because they had racially profiled me. After I matured, I began saying that in the larger scheme of things in strange settings among strange people, I’d rather women be overly cautious rather than not cautious enough in the presence of men - all men. And that’s how I still feel.
I believe in the reality of privilege, and in such situations, I have male privilege, football player-looking male privilege. I’d rather my wife and daughter be extra cautious as well and hope strange men they encounter would see things from their point-of-view. That’s why on one level the fear factor in this case makes sense. But Foster, Weiss and Amy Cooper take that too far - way too far.
Take a look at that encounter on that short video. If Amy Cooper was so scared, so terrified that Christian Cooper might hit her with a bicycle helmet - never mind wondering why a big dude like that would need to use a helmet as a weapon against her - that she went up to him, repeatedly? Why did she approach him even as he was moving backwards? She tried to grab his phone to stop him from recording. He never tried to touch her or her dog. While we all react to fear in various ways, it seems a bit inconceivable that the person who was supposedly terrified was the person who was the most physically aggressive.
Here’s what’s also clear in that video and given all the context we had then and now: Amy Cooper could have walked away. Christian Cooper was not chasing her. Had she ignored everything he said and put her dog back on the leash, not even the dog treat trick would have mattered. But she didn’t. She didn’t move back. She didn’t run away. She confronted him while threatening him with the police.
Foster and Weiss also made a point and claimed that had the roles been reversed, Amy Cooper would still have been viewed as the villain. In some people’s minds, maybe. But let’s get one thing straight: A black dude calling the cops on a white woman, even unfairly, is not the same thing as a white woman calling the cops on a black dude. Odds are that in each scenario, the black dude would be the one who might suffer greatly at the hands of the police, not the white woman. Anyone who suggests otherwise or doesn’t understand why hasn’t been paying attention, knows nothing of our history or our presence.
And that’s where the George Floyd murder came in. It happened that same day, a police officer murdering a black man because someone called to report an allegedly fake $20 bill. Of course the public is going to connect those dots, particularly because the public knew that wasn’t the first time a black man had been murdered by police under such circumstances, and they knew that had Christian Cooper suffered the same fate that would not have been the first time a black man was murdered because of a white woman’s cries and tears.
Foster and Weiss don’t spend a lot of time with that context, either, because that, too, would have undercut their attempts to change the narrative to the poor-helpless-scared white woman trying her best in the face of an aggressive black dude.
By the way, I don’t play the game of whether Amy Cooper is or isn’t a racist. I actually don’t give a crap if she is or isn’t. What she did was racist, and in the worst way. When you call the cops on a black dude that way for that reason, you are definitely triggering a lot of ugly possibilities that happen to black men more than most other groups. (Native American and black women also suffer in disproportionate ways.)
I wish this was not a story, either. I wish we didn’t have to keep thinking of the worst possible scenario. But I know as long as people - journalists - keep going this route and distorting even stories like these that the end to these kinds of incidents is nowhere in sight.
I did not see great journalism in that piece or podcast. I saw another unfortunate attempt to once again ensure that the white woman would be made the victim no matter the role she played in the mess.
I’m sorry that she has had to endure so many ugly death threats - something I said months ago. In fact, during a recent class at Davidson College where I teach, I began the semester with this story and that clip. The first assignment was for each student to reimagine themselves as Amy Cooper because I knew that walking into the classroom they likely saw her as the villain.
I asked them to do that not to sympathize with her, but rather to empathize. I wanted them to understand that you can understand an issue from a person’s point-of-view no matter if you agreed with them or not, whether you liked them or not, that it was possible to do so even if you really despised what the person did. I wanted them to know how important that is, to never flatten people out of existence just because everyone else seemed to be doing so. We talked about what we didn’t get to see, what happened before the recording began or after it ended, and how, had they known that information, it would change their perception of Amy Cooper even if they still believed she was in the wrong.
I suspect that’s what Foster and Weiss set out to do here, or something like it, to remind their audience to think deeper, to consider context, to not rush to judgment, to resist simply following the crowd. If that’s what they were trying to do, I applaud them. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that well. In my view, instead of helping their audience better understand those important principles, they flattened the two Coopers and the media out of reality and into a distorted truth. Why did they choose that route? I don’t know. I just hope that everyone else knows that we don’t have to follow suit.
The irony, of course, is that Christian Cooper went out of his way to tell people to not demonize Amy Cooper. He even went as far as not participating in the prosecution of her by New York officials. He said this even while being criticized by some for going to easy on her. And yet, Foster and Weiss still found a way to make him the villain.