In These Times - June 24, 2020
The morning after protests and riots first erupted over the heartwrenching videotape of George Floyd's death at the hand of rogue Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, I posted to Facebook a stock photo of a random petite white woman, dancing in place, her arms raised in celebration. Beneath it, I wrote: “Amy Cooper last night.”
Days before, a video had gone viral of Amy, a white woman, committing verbal assault—calling the police on a Black man in Central Park who’d asked her to leash her dog in accordance with park rules. She’d claimed he was threatening her life.
As anguish and rage exploded on the streets of America and across the globe, I imagined Amy watching the unrest on her flat screen TV, curled up on the sofa of her posh apartment, smiling smugly; an organic snack in hand. I suspected that she was relieved that the brief fallout she’d faced, including the media attention that purportedly “destroyed” her life, had suddenly become eclipsed by the round-the-clock attention now being given in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s modern-day lynching recorded in all its gore for the world to see.
The news cycle had moved on, and rightfully so, but I hadn’t. Even as my heart ached for Mr. Floyd and his family, especially his 6-year-old daughter, I found my mind drifting back to Amy. I couldn’t shake the disappointment and anger, that she somehow would get the privilege of slipping back into obscurity, almost completely unchecked for her heinous crime. Sure she’d reportedly lost a job and, briefly, her dog, but that pales in comparison to what could have happened to Christian Cooper (no relation), the victim of her calculated assault, had they both remained on the scene when NYPD officers arrived. She deserved so much more castigation.
As Yusef Salaam, a Black man who along with four other Black and Latino men, spent years in prison before being exonerated for a rape of a white woman in the very same park 30 years ago, recently put it in an interview: Amy should be “made an example of … because never again should that be allowed.” I agree. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Salaam about his now-infamous case and the passion he conveyed about Amy is palpable.
You see to me, and many Black people, Derek Chauvin and Amy Cooper are one and the same. Their actions demonstrate that they each share an inability to acknowledge the humanity of Black people; that they believe that Black people, especially Black men, are not deserving of the same dignity or respect that white people are granted as a birthright. Their respective actions, in my view, confirm that when given the opportunity, they’ll exert whatever power they hold in the world over a Black life, what some call white privilege, completely unconcerned or unaffected by the consequences that their actions may impose. Chauvin, of course, is a sworn public servant indebted to the taxpaying public, but entitled white women like Amy are to some degree more dangerous because they’re accountable to no one.
Mr. Cooper managed to walk out of Central Park alive, but had Amy had her way, he very well could have met the same fate as Mr. Floyd. As a grown woman living in a major U.S. city, she had to be well aware of the contentious relationship between the Black community and law enforcement; in the heat of the moment, however, she simply did not care. She, like so many others before her, wantonly weaponized her whiteness, as if to say: How dare this Black man have the audacity to demand that I, a white woman, follow park rules?
Her feelings were apparent in her Oscar-worthy performance, which Mr. Cooper thankfully had the forethought to video; the way she callously threatened to call “the cops” and “tell them there's an African American man threatening my life.” By then she was so wrapped up in her own theatrics, that she nearly strangled her dog as he became entangled in his leash. Her motives were further displayed after she made good on her threat and dialed 911. When the dispatcher did not seem alarmed enough about her bogus claims, she raised the stakes a bit higher, strategically transitioning into a high-pitched shriek.
White women like Amy are the reason we know Emmett Till, “The Scottsboro Boys” case in Alabama and the infamous Tulsa uprising in Oklahoma. All of those tragically violent and destructive incidents were ignited by white women hurling false allegations against Black men.
Fast forward to today, and Amy Coopers still abound. Look no further than Dallas cop Amber Guyger, who in 2018 gunned down Black church choir leader and accountant Botham Jean inside his own home. Her tearful, dramatic performance in court, almost as impressive as Amy Cooper’s, earned her a hug from a presiding judge, a teary-eyed soliloquy from her victim’s grieving brother, and a hair stroke from a Black woman bailiff (later declared a “contraband search”) reminiscent of one of those cringe-worthy scenes between Miss Scarlett and Mammy. And this was after Guyger had been convicted.
Several professional Black men I know, who remind me in many ways of the Harvard-educated bird watcher Mr. Cooper, have confided in me since the Central Park incident that while they fear law enforcement, women like Amy frighten them more. In fact, Black men I know, even at the highest echelons of corporate America, have admitted to me privately that to this day, yes in 2020, that they avoid being alone with white female co-workers and leave their office doors propped open during what would normally be private closed-door meetings. Some say they even avoid dating white women— even ones they’re attracted to—out of fear of what she could say or do to them if things somehow didn’t work out.
I am elated that in the wake of Amy’s outburst, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing a bill that would make it a hate crime to make a false police report based on someone’s race, gender or religion. That’s a step in the right direction. But I also challenge those who claim to be serious about making this unique time we’ve been experiencing in the country as of late more than a trending hashtag, a fad or just something to pass the time during coronavirus quarantine, to do more. Make sure you also acknowledge, denounce and demand an end to the destruction caused by the Amy Coopers of the world for far too long with far too little (if any) consequence.
Meet Amy Cooper—and all of the Amy Coopers in your life—with the same scrutiny, skepticism and scorn that Chauvin and his cop comrades now face. Their actions all come from the same place—where double standards go unchallenged, power is consistently abused and dehumanizing words and actions are allowed to denigrate those who, sadly, hold considerably less clout in our society. You know, all of the stuff that we as a society profess to detest about the perpetrators in the #MeToo movement.
Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper. Remember her name and speak of her as you would any other racist. Don’t minimize her transgression, or her role in fueling and further perpetuating systemic racism. The only way that we can begin the long process of potentially dismantling racism in this country is to demand that she and others who behave like her are finally held accountable, too.