Black Lives Matter

Charges dropped against woman who called police on Black birdwatcher

Amy Cooper completes therapy involving racial bias instruction · Video of encounter in New York’s Central Park went viral in 2020

Amy Cooper with her dog calling police at Central Park in New York in an encounter with birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) in May 2020

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INVESTIGATIVE PRESS GROUP

Prosecutors in New York have dropped a charge against Amy Cooper, a woman who achieved widespread notoriety after she confronted a Black man birdwatching in Central Park who asked her to put her dog on a leash. Cooper, who is white, was charged in July last year with filing a false report regarding the confrontation with Christian Cooper, no relation.

Cooper was walking her dog in the Ramble, a relatively wild section of Central Park, when she encountered the birdwatcher. He asked her to leash her dog, according to park rules. She refused and, as he filmed the encounter, said she would tell police a Black man was threatening her life. Calling 911, she described Cooper as “African American”.

Christian Cooper’s sister posted the video to social media, where it went viral. Amy Cooper lost her job and publicly apologized.

The incident played into a widespread debate over racism in the US, especially around white individuals calling police to report Black people going about everyday activities. But it also formed part of a conversation around police brutality with many activists pointing out the risks to Black people involved in police callouts, especially those that are fabricated.

In court in Manhattan on Tuesday, prosecutor Joan Illuzi-Orbon said: “The simple principle is: one can not use the police to threaten another and, in this case, in a racially offensive and charged manner.

Prosecutors also said Amy Cooper had completed therapy including instruction about racial bias. The therapist involved called the sessions “a moving experience” and said Cooper “learned a lot”. The judge dropped the charge.

Such outcomes are standard for first-time offenders facing misdemeanor charges, Illuzzi-Orbon said. But the decision was criticised in some quarters.

Eliza Orlins, a public defender running to replace Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, tweeted: “This isn’t surprising. This is how the system was designed to function to protect the privileged from accountability.”

Christian Cooper did not immediately comment. Last year, in the aftermath of the confrontation, he told the Washington Post: “I don’t think there’s an African American person in America who hasn’t experienced something like this at some point.”

In a statement on Twitter, Amy Cooper’s lawyer, Robert Barnes, wrote: “After a thorough and honest inquiry, the New York [district attorney’s] office dismissed all charges today against Amy Cooper. We thank them for their integrity and concur with the outcome.”

Barnes also hinted at possible legal action arising from coverage of the confrontation, writing: “Others rushed to the wrong conclusion based on inadequate investigation and they may yet face legal consequences.”

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