By Alec Pruchnicki
One way to possibly live to a ripe old age in New York City, a city in which people get killed over parking spots, is to avoid unnecessary confrontations. They can sometimes quickly escalate beyond your control. Most dog walkers in The Village have their dogs on leashes, but not always. When I see someone walking a dog without it being leashed, I’m irritated but I never confront the person.
A recent event in The Ramble, an isolated area of Central Park, shows how confrontation can escalate. The Rumble in The Ramble started at about 8 AM when Amy Cooper was walking her unleashed dog in spite of signs reminding owners that leashes were required. Christian Cooper, a bird watcher who was there confronted her and asked her several times to leash the dog, and she apparently refused several times. He took out his phone and started to record her, at which point she became increasingly upset and threatened to call the police. When she did, and described him as an “African American man wearing a bicycle helmet threatening me and my dog.” it was caught on tape, eventually sent to YouTube, and she was universally castigated as a racist for her description and fired from her job. At first, I accepted this narrative since there are so many similar episodes documented on YouTube and TV news shows.
But, a column in the New York Daily News by Robert George on May 26th directed me to Christian’s Facebook page where a much different picture developed. Here’s the full story from his Facebook page and the video.
She was walking the dog without a leash and the two argued back and forth, as previously described. Then he said to her, “Well, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, and you’re not going to like it.” He took out some dog treats and attempted to give one to her dog over her objections. That’s when she called the police. Eventually, she put on the leash, Christian politely said “Thank you”, and it ended until it appeared on YouTube with the subsequent fire storm of comments.
The first comment that has been almost universally accepted was that she mentioned his being African American as a way of speeding up police response. How does anyone, sitting comfortably at home in front of their computers know what was in her mind at that time with such certainty that they can accuse her of racism and fire her from her job? She didn’t use the N word but actually the politically correct description of him.
Second, her phone call was a false report since she wasn’t really threatened. There’s no indication that Christian intended her harm, but how would she know that? It was 8 AM, in the middle of the woods with, apparently, nobody else around. Women do get attacked in parks. If I were in the middle of the woods and had an argument with somebody, of any race, and I heard “…you’re not going to like it,” I would take it as a potential threat, and a physical one at that. If I were on Hudson Street in the middle of the day, or in a crowded bar and someone said that to me, for whatever reason, I would take it as a potential physical threat. And feeding something to her dog, over her objections, can also be considered threatening since people simply don’t do that under normal circumstances. As she said in a subsequent interview, it could have been poison as far as she knew depending on how angry he was at her dog.
Third, people haven’t listened to the video carefully. Although she said she would tell the police he was threatening her life, she didn’t actually say that on the phone. She did appear more frantic (or frightened?) while on the phone but we don’t know how the police responded to her call or if they appeared to be taking her seriously or ignoring her complaint.
Although she apologized when interviewed afterward, she lost her job on the grounds that the one-minute video indicated a previously undetected level of racism that her employer had not noticed in all the time she worked for them.
As an aside, Christian referred to her as a “karen” a sexual and racial stereotype in and of itself (see article in this issue “What is a Karen”).
Jumping on the anti-Amy bandwagon, The New York Times wrote two long articles on the incident, both indicating that her accusation of threatening behavior was unfounded, although the same articles, at the very end, had his exact “…you’re not going to like it” statement.
Don’t start confrontations unless absolutely necessary. Don’t walk your dog without a leash even if he is “friendly” and “doesn’t bite.” And don’t make judgements about people based on one-minute videos without trying to get all the facts.