Viral video from NYC's Central Park sparks racism debate

Dog walker who called police on African American man out bird-watching fired by her employer following uproar.

    People enjoy warm weather during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City's Central Park [Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]
    People enjoy warm weather during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City's Central Park [Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]

    A verbal dispute between a white woman walking her dog and a Black man bird-watching in New York City's Central Park might normally have gone unnoticed in a city preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic.

    That changed, however, 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 - has sparked accusations of racism.

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    The confrontation began early Monday morning when Christian Cooper said he noticed Amy Cooper had let her dog off its leash against the rules in the Rambles, 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.

    Messages were left on Tuesday with Christian Cooper and his sister.

    "I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things," Christian Cooper told CNN. "Unfortunately we live in an era with things like Ahmaud Arbery, where Black men are seen as targets. This woman thought she could exploit that to her advantage, and I wasn't having it."

    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 the fallout, investment firm Franklin Templeton announced it was putting Amy Cooper on administrative leave while it investigates the confrontation. On Tuesday afternoon, the company announced that it had fired her.

    Amy Cooper earlier told CNN that she wanted to "publicly apologise to everyone", adding, "I am not a racist."

    "I think I was just scared," Amy Cooper said. "When you're alone in the Rambles, you don't know what's happening. It's not excusable, it's not defensible."

    SOURCE: AP news agency