Christian Cooper says he had his phone out to record a white woman breaking the rules in a leashed area in New York City’s Central Park.
After a brief argument about being recorded, the woman pulled out her own phone and called the police on Cooper, who is Black.
“I’m gonna tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she tells him in the now-viral video, which was posted online by Cooper’s sister on Monday.
The woman can then be seen making the call and repeatedly claiming that she is being “threatened by a man in the Ramble!” She yanks her dog around by its collar throughout the 66-second video.
Christian Cooper makes no comments or moves toward the woman in the video, which escalates quickly from the first argument to the phone call in less than a minute. Cooper says he recorded the whole thing because she was flagrantly ignoring the leash rule in Central Park’s Ramble, an area popular for birdwatching.
The video has ignited fury on social media, where many have accused the woman, Amy Cooper, of blatant racism while calling for her to be fired from her job at Franklin Templeton Investments — a wish that came true on Tuesday afternoon. Some have also called for her to be booted out of the United States after evidence on her now-deleted LinkedIn profile suggests she might be Canadian.
The incident has also dredged up memories of the infamous Central Park Five incident, a case from 1989 in which five young Black boys were falsely accused and convicted of raping a white jogger.
“The video out of Central Park is racism, plain and simple,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Tuesday morning, in a message denouncing the incident. “She called the police BECAUSE he was a Black man. Even though she was the one breaking the rules. She decided he was the criminal and we know why.”
“That white woman tone of voice is exactly … the sound they make to call the hounds of hell on you,” author Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote on Twitter. “Made me want to vomit.”
Another user called it a case of someone using “white fragility as both a sword and shield.”
Franklin Templeton initially put Cooper on “administrative leave” before firing her on Tuesday, saying: “We do not tolerate racism of any kind.” A New York shelter says it has recovered the dog from Cooper.
Amy Cooper has also apologized in interviews with multiple news outlets.
“I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family,” she said in an interview with NBC New York. “It was unacceptable and (I) fully apologize to everyone … who thinks of me in a lower light, and I understand why they do.”
Christian Cooper is a former Marvel Comics editor and avid birdwatcher, and his sister Melody is a TV writer. Melody shared the clip to Twitter, where it has racked up more than 23 million views.
Christian and Melody are not related to Amy Cooper, who appears to have been educated in Canada. Amy Cooper went to school at the University of Waterloo from 1998 until 2003, according to her now-deleted LinkedIn page. The name “Amy Cooper” also appears in a University of Waterloo student newspaper from 2001.
Global News has reached out to Cooper about her citizenship.
Melody Cooper described Amy on Twitter as a “Karen,” an internet slang term for an annoying, middle-aged white woman who wants to share her trivial complaints with someone in authority (often a manager). The term has been around for a few years, but it’s become more common during the novel coronavirus pandemic as a shorthand for ignorant and abrasive white women.
Many of Amy Cooper’s critics called her a “racist Karen” for taking her complaints to the police and not a manager. They also compared the incident to past cases of racial injustice in which white women falsely accused Black men of crimes.
“Central Park 5 comes to mind,” user Gustavo Esteban wrote on Twitter. He also brought up the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 on allegations that he offended a white woman. “These Karens, man. Gotta stay away from ‘em.”
Christian Cooper says he was at the park to go birdwatching, and he started filming the woman because she had taken her dog off its leash in an area where signs say that’s prohibited. He told NBC New York that he was annoyed that she was disrupting a popular spot for birders.
“If the habitat is destroyed we won’t be able to go there to see the birds, to enjoy the plantings,” he told NBC News.
Christian Cooper’s video starts with Amy crouching over her dog while holding an unconnected leash. “Can you please stop! I’m asking you to stop!” she says after she notices that he is filming. The woman then walks toward the camera.
“Please don’t come close to me,” Christian Cooper says several times, while she repeatedly tells him to stop filming.
“Then I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” she says, before vowing to tell them that an “African American man” is threatening her life.
The woman then hauls her dog away by the collar and makes the call.
“I’m sorry, I’m in the Ramble and there’s a man, African American, he has an iPod, he is recording me and threatening me and my dog,” the woman says. She repeats that claim three more times.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble!” she says. “Please send the cops immediately!”
Christian Cooper waits until she gets off the phone, thanks her and turns off the camera.
He says he filmed the incident because he refused to be intimidated by her, especially after she chose to play the “race card.”
He also compared the incident to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man who was ambushed by white men while out for a jog last February. No charges were laid in the case until video of the killing surfaced earlier this month.
“We live in an age of Ahmaud Arbery where Black men are gunned down because of assumptions people make about Black men, Black people,” Christian Cooper said. “I’m just not going to participate in that.”
The incident was all over Twitter on Tuesday morning, with hashtags like “FireAmyCooper” and “AmyCooperIsARacist” trending around the incident.
“The most amazing thing about the Amy Cooper story is that for once, it’s HER life that is derailed,” U.S. commentator Jess McIntosh wrote on Twitter. “The birder will wake up this morning and enjoy the park and we won’t even recognize him when he passes.”
Some users called for Amy Cooper to be kicked out of the U.S. and sent back to Canada.
Many applauded Christian Cooper for keeping his cool under the difficult circumstances. Others celebrated his obvious love for birds after a clip surfaced of him talking about the hobby.
Melody Cooper thanked everyone for supporting her brother in a tweet on Monday night.
“He is fine and left to continue birding after she leashed the dog, as he politely requested,” she wrote on Twitter. “I wanted folks to know what happened to make sure it never happens again from her.
“All she had to do was put her poor dog on the leash.”