NYC investigating Central Park dog dispute involving white woman and black birdwatcher

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020
NYC investigates dispute between white woman, black birdwatcher
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Kemberly Richardson has more on the investigation into the Central Park confrontation that went viral.

CENTRAL PARK (WABC) -- New York City's Commission on Human Rights has launched an investigation into the verbal dispute between a white woman with an unleashed dog and a black man bird watching in Central Park.

The commission has sent a letter of inquiry to the woman involved, requesting her cooperation in a pre-complaint intervention.

"At a time when the devastating impacts of racism in Black communities have been made so painfully clear-from racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes, to harassment of essential workers on the frontlines-it is appalling to see these types of ugly threats directed at one New Yorker by another," said Sapna V. Raj, Deputy Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights in a statement.

"Efforts to intimidate Black people by threatening to call law enforcement draw on a long, violent and painful history, and they are unacceptable," the statement continued. "We encourage Ms. Cooper to cooperate with the Commission and meaningfully engage in a process to address the harm that she has caused."

The agency sent Amy Cooper, the white woman who called police, a letter -- a pre-complaint intervention -- the first step in its investigation. She has five days to respond to the letter or the next step could be litigation.

Raj believes Cooper's actions violated Christian Cooper, the black man who was birdwatching, his human rights. The commission is seeking restorative justice.

"I think some kind of training and community service will actually help a lot for people to understand what effect their words and actions are on different communities and communities of color," Raj said via Zoom.

Since the case involves only one person, the commission is not looking for a change in policy like it did with fashion giant Prada and its racially offensive window display. It's also not looking to issues and fines, which it can also do up to $250,000 in penalties.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is also looking at the incident as well, saying their office is thoroughly reviewing the matter.

The dispute might normally have gone unnoticed in a city preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic.

That changed when birdwatcher Christian Cooper pulled out his phone and captured Amy Cooper calling police to report she was being threatened by "an African-American man." The widely watched video - posted on Facebook by Christian Cooper and on Twitter by his sister - sparked accusations of racism and led to Amy Cooper getting fired.

"I am not okay today," NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said. "That woman was so comfortable in her privilege that even being recorded she felt like nothing would happen to her."

The confrontation began early Monday morning when Christian Cooper said he noticed Amy Cooper had let her cocker spaniel off its leash against the rules in the Ramble, a secluded section of Central Park popular with birdwatchers.

In a Facebook post, he claimed the dog was "tearing through the plantings" and told her she should go to another part of the park. When she refused, he pulled out dog treats, causing her to scream at him to not come near her dog.

Amy Cooper also warned him she would summon police unless he stopped recording.

"I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life," Amy Cooper is heard saying in the video as she pulls down her face mask and struggles to control her dog.

"Please call the cops," Christian Cooper says.

"There's an African American man, I'm in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog. ... Please send the cops immediately!" she says during the call before he stops recording.

Police say by the time they responded, they were both gone.

In the fallout, investment firm Franklin Templeton announced Tuesday afternoon it had fired Amy Cooper, saying, "We do not tolerate racism of any kind."

A group called Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue said it had custody of her dog for the time being. The pet could be heard coughing in the video after she clenched it by the collar with its front legs off the ground.

Amy Cooper released an apology through a public relations service Tuesday night, saying she "reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions."

"He had every right to request that I leash my dog in an area where it was required," she said in the written statement. "I am well aware of the pain that misassumptions and insensitive statements about race cause and would never have imagined that I would be involved in the type of incident that occurred with Chris."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the video exemplified hatred that has "no place in our city."

"The video out of Central Park is racism, plain and simple," de Blasio tweeted. "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."

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In an interview with The New York Times, Christian Cooper showed empathy for the stranger with whom he shares a last name.

"It's a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that," he said. "If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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