You might have forgotten this ethics story from last May. That would be understandable. It was momentarily big news (though it should not have been), but it occurred on the same day Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck, and the George Floyd Freak-out and The Great Stupid soon descended on the land.
The verdict here—you might want to review the post—was that the villain in the story, Amy Cooper, was indeed an asshole for calling the cops on a black bird-watcher in Central Park.She did it because he told her to leash her dog (as the rules required) and began filming her defiant reaction. The other Cooper, Bird-watcher Christian, posted the video, thus severely tearing the fabric of Amy’s life for a single incident of miserable conduct. (“Take that, bitch!”) She was fired and humiliated, and New York banned her from Central Park and tried to put her in jail. Amy is also probably tarred as a racist for life, though as I argued in the post, the fact that she mistreated a black man and attempted to use his race against him doesn’t prove she’s a racist. It just proves she’s an asshole.
Christian, who did his part to blow an ultimately minor dispute into a national controversy, ultimately had second thoughts, and to his credit decided not to pursue a legal vendetta against Amy. I don’t like his rationale for this, which consisted of two rationalizations that I detest: #38 B, Excessive Accountability, or “She’s Suffered Enough,” and the awful rationalization #22, Comparative Virtue, or “There are worse things.” He told a reporter that he felt the lack of D.C. statehood was more important than punishing Amy Cooper. Oh. If there’s one thing that makes me think about D.C. statehood, it’s a rude white dogwalker having an altercation with a black bird-watcher.
I would have had no problem with prosecuting Amy Cooper for making a false complaint to the police if that law were enforced in New York as a matter of course. It isn’t, however. NYC District Attorney Cyrus Vance decided to charge Amy because of the high profile nature of the case, and to grandstand for social justice warriors, using the Minnesota white cop’s knee on black neck narrative as an opportunity. The Ethics Alarms verdict is that this was an unfair and irresponsible reason to pile on Amy, not because she didn’t deserve to be charged, but because the motive behind her charging was unethical for a prosecutor, and indeed racially biased. Vance would not have charged a black Amy under the exact same circumstances.
Now you’re caught up, so this next development can be put in context: the criminal case against Cooper was dismissed a month ago. In part because Christian Cooper declined to support her prosecution, Amy Cooper cut a plea deal that stipulated that if she completed a “therapeutic program” including instruction “about racial biases,” all charges would be dropped. She did, and they were. Amy had faced up to a year in jail if convicted, so a metaphorical gun was at her head. Learn to love Big Brother, or else.
This is being hailed as an example of “restorative justice,” a faddish movement to address the alleged social malady of “mass incarceration.” ( If a lot of people are in prison, the malady is excessive law-breaking, not excessive imprisonment for it.) Restorative justice is an alternative to traditional prosecution that prioritizes mitigating the harm done and that seeks reconciliation among the parties, including the offender, the victim and the community. It’s a bad, squishy and naive theory that makes wrongdoing less risky, and lessens the consequences of being caught breaking the law. You may quote me.
For Cooper, “restorative justice” meant attending “counseling sessions” at the Critical Therapy Center in Manhattan. There, the president and founder of the center told the New York Times, patients are subjected to “a critical inquiry into one’s personal beliefs and how they impact other people, how they impact the world and how they actually contribute to racism.”
Translation: she was subjected to indoctrination sessions designed to change her beliefs.
The government has no right to mandate brain-washing, which is what this really is, if a weak version. Weak versions can and often do get stronger. Amy Cooper has a right to her beliefs, no matter how misguided or ugly they may be (or how much others disagree with them), and the government conspiring to change them is totalitarian to the core. Amy does not have a right to harm others while acting on her beliefs. The law punishes the conduct, and it is up to the wrongdoer to evaluate her beliefs as a result.
Source: New York Times