…but not before Amy Cooper had to flee the country and go into hiding.
To refresh your memory about this Ethics Train Wreck that has been silently rolling all this time, review the posts about on Ethics Alarms here (describing the episode, or at least as we told about it), here, about a month later, commenting on New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s unethical decision to prosecute Amy Cooper (which he partially justified based on the the intervening George Floyd Freakout), and finally here, from March, when I discussed Amy having to agree to endure state-mandate brainwashing in order to have Vance’s persecution dropped. The short version—but read the posts—is that White Amy Cooper walking her dog off-leash in Central Park was confronted by Black Christian Cooper, a birdwatching enthusiast, who demanded that she leash her dog and filmed her reactions as she demanded that he stop, then called 911. His video showed her telling authorities with increasing agitation that “An African-American man” was threatening her. Black Cooper’s sister then posted the video on line,White Amy became the personification of a racist “Karen,” and the story nicely set the stage for the George Floyd mess, which, through contrived logic and unscrupulous hype, it was linked to.
I must confess that I am proud of Ethics Alarms for its coverage of this case. Even before I had the additional facts (because nobody did), I correctly discerned that both Amy and Christian Cooper, the black bird-watcher whom she called the cops on,
—behaved like jerks,
—that the fury Christian brought down on Amy’s head was disproportionate to her conduct,
—that Don Lemon and others making what was a minor local tiff into a national controversy was unconscionable, and
—that Amy did not deserve to lose her job, career, dog and reputation, plus be prosecuted and get a lifetime ban from using Central Park,
….because, in essence, she was white and behaved like an asshole. (Some readers seemed to think that the fact that Amy eventually got her dog back was sufficient mitigation.) I wrote in the first post, “Proportion is an ethical value. It appears to be completely absent from this fiasco, on all sides.” Truer words I have seldom published, and that was before the recent revelations.
Bari Weiss, the New York Times rebel and exile I wrote about here, has a podcast, and in her most recent release reveals what some non-mainstream media reporters discovered when they dug deeper than their mainstream counterparts bothered to do. Amy Cooper, now living abroad to escape the constant harassment and abuse she endured in the wake of the incident, also is interviewed.
We learn that…
- …the birdwatcher-“dog people” feud had been raging not just in Central Park but in other cities for more than a year. The “confront and film” strategy had been adopted by other birdwatchers, and other “dog people”—not all of the white— had experienced intense confrontations with…Christian Cooper in Central Park. A recording of Christian Cooper at a local community board meeting just days before his encounter with Amy featured him saying, “It’s getting super ugly between birders and unleashed dog walkers,” he says. “I’ve been assaulted twice so far this spring, people actually putting their hands on me, which really surprises me, because I’m not a small guy.” Why that matters: It means that Amy Cooper was not alone in finding Christian Cooper’s methods upsetting and creepy, at least raising the rebuttable presumption that it was not his race that triggered her conduct.
- …the Facebook post that Christian shared when he uploaded the original video suggested that he had, in fact, threatened Amy. Christian wrote that before his camera started recording the incident, he had said, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.” Christian said that that he pulled out “the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence.” This was another common tactic of the birdwatchers in their battles with dog walkers. Jerome Lockett, a black man who said Christian had “aggressively” threatened him in the park, testified in May that “when I saw that video, I thought, I cannot imagine if he approached her the same way how she may have genuinely been afraid for her life.” He continued, “If I wasn’t who I was, I would of [sic] called the police on that guy too.” Why that matters: Amy may have been justified in feeling threatened.
- …the recording of Amy Cooper’s 911 call reveals that her repeated reference to his race and the growing hysteria displayed in the video was the result of a bad cell phone connection.She couldn’t make herself understood, so kept repeating the same complaint with escalating volume and urgency. Why this matters: The media narrative was that Amy Cooper was engaging in a “performance” to exaggerate her fear of a black man. The version of her call portrayed by the viral video was misleading.
As Megan Phelps-Roper writes on substack,
“So why tell this story? It’s not because Amy Cooper’s life was destroyed by this video, though that is a tragedy. Nor is telling this story an attempt to deny the existence of racism and its insidious legacy. …To tell this story is to address a different set of problems. Among them: our collective intoxication with public shaming. Our willingness to dispense with due process when we think we “know” the truth in the absence of evidence. The media’s complicity in perpetuating public judgments, even when the facts directly contradict those judgments. The lack of proportion in the punishments meted out to perceived offenders. The absence of any avenue for redemption or reconciliation when a breach has been made. And the mercilessness shown to those at the center of these storms, often leaving them suicidal and broken.”
All true. And frankly, all of that should have been evident before these new facts, which the news media was obligated to track down but didn’t bother because they had their narrative, came to light.