His binoculars around his neck, Christian Cooper, an avid birder, was back in his happy place on Wednesday: Central Park during migration season. He was trying to focus on the olive-sided flycatchers and red-bellied woodpeckers — not on what had happened there two days earlier.
That was when Mr. Cooper, who is black, asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash. When she did not, he began filming. In response, the woman dialed 911, falsely claiming “an African-American man is threatening my life.”
On Tuesday, the video went viral on Twitter and garnered over 40 million views, setting off a painful discourse about the history of dangerous false accusations against black people made to police.
The birds were a welcome distraction from thinking about what had happened next: By that day’s end, the woman, Amy Cooper (no relation) had surrendered her dog and had been fired from her high-level finance job. As he wandered the park’s North Woods on Wednesday shortly after dawn, he said he felt exhausted, exposed and profoundly conflicted, particularly about Ms. Cooper’s fate.
“Any of us can make — not necessarily a racist mistake, but a mistake,” Mr. Cooper said, “And to get that kind of tidal wave in such a compressed period of time, it’s got to hurt. It’s got to hurt.”
A gray catbird darted around his hiking boots.
“I’m not excusing the racism,” he said. “But I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart.”
He opened his mouth to speak further and then stopped himself. He had been about to say the phrase, “that poor woman,” he later acknowledged, but he could not bring himself to complete the thought.
“She went racial. There are certain dark societal impulses that she, as a white woman facing in a conflict with a black man, that she thought she could marshal to her advantage,” he said.
“I don’t know if it was a conscious thing or not,” he added. “But she did it, and she went there.” [Continue reading…]