|Caught on Tape: The Bird Watcher and the Insurance Manager|
By Jorge Alexandria - June 2, 2020
“It’s no disgrace to be black, but it’s often very inconvenient.”
James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Then and now, racial tensions in America bring a lot of heartache.
One incident began on Memorial Day weekend when Christian Cooper, a 57-year-old black, Harvard educated man and biomedical editor, was bird watching in the urban jungle of New York’s Central Park in an area known as the Ramble.
The Ramble is off limits to any dog without a leash for righteous fear that certain dogs may hunt and kill birds sacred to bird watchers. There are signs posted all over the Ramble to keep your dog on a leash.
These signs were lost on Amy Cooper (no relation to Christian Cooper) a white, 57-year-old insurance portfolio manager, who was walking her dog through the Ramble. Christian, the avid bird watcher, asked Amy politely and diplomatically to leash her cocker spaniel or to take her dog to another part of the park where canines can run free. When Amy refused, an argument ensued, and Christian began filming the events as they unfolded with his iPhone.
Follow the link, below:
At no time was Christian a threat to Amy and Amy’s life was never in any danger. Nonetheless, Amy threatens to call the police. “I’m going to tell them there is an African American man threatening my life,” she says.
She does just that. “There is an African American man, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog.”
Christian Cooper, bird watcher and Harvard educated biomedical editor.
She begs for help as a white maiden in distress from the 911 operator, complete with faux hysterical tone, changing her pitch, and heightening her cries to increase the sense of urgency for police so they could get there ASAP. She has no problem lying to the 911 operator and very succinctly suggesting that she is being physically assaulted although no one was assaulting her.
Her acting is remarkable. As she hangs up, she puts the leash on the dog, which had been squirming and wrestling with her, and at times seemed to be choking as she tried to hold it down. Christian Cooper says “thank you” and the video ends.
Amy’s actions were flawed and wrong. In her capacity as an insurance manager Amy may be all wise and perhaps a bit savvy but that day she expressed poor judgment. She purposely tried to marshal to her advantage the fact that the bird watcher was an African American male and with it the presumption that he was automatically guilty. Was she really ignorant of the dangers of making a false accusation against a black man?
We live in an age when men of color, (brown and black but mostly black), are shot, gunned down, because of the presumptions that people, like Amy, sometimes make. Every other day or so I read in one daily or another of how black people, including teenagers, have had police called on them while barbecuing, using pools, renting Airbnb homes, sitting peacefully at Starbucks, and engaging in other mundane activities. I watched uncomfortable how an angry Amy exerted white privilege through the unthinkable extreme to make a point so doggone frightening that it scares me to think of what would have happened had the black bird watcher not had the video recording.
Worse yet, what if Christian Cooper had not looked like a college professor and instead had been wearing saggy pants with tattoos covering his face and neck, and flashy jewelry when police arrived with guns drawn? Would he have been shot by police? Placed in a chokehold unable to breathe?
Police, as most are aware, are trained and authorized to employ such tactics to protect the public. Luckily, the NYPD saw through Amy’s bullshit and no one, including Amy, was cited. Though I think a reasonable argument could be made for a false police report, (but here again, the white privilege thing). That is not to say Amy Cooper was in the clear. That Monday, May 25th 2020, the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, her employer, Franklin Templeton, having seen the video, fired her.
Episodes like these remind me of the Emmett Till case where a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, alleged that 14-year- old black Emmett had insulted her and treated her in a way that challenged the southern racial hierarchy. In 1955 Emmett was lynched by a white mob who police did not even attempt to dissuade, (I’ve come to realize that even today some in the white community look to the police as their private protection agency; Emmett and people of color don’t have that luxury).
Six decades later the woman, on her death bed, recanted her allegation against Emmett. She held on—and told—that lie to ensure that her husband and his co-conspirator were found not guilty of murder, and she held on to the lie after she divorced her first husband and remarried twice. She held that lie while she lived a comfortable life and raised her own children
Is Amy a racist? I do not know. However, what she did was racist. I don’t know if it was a conscious thing or not, but she went there. It was revealed on HBO’s Bill Maher show that she was a Barack Obama supporter and had contributed to his campaign.
Thus, here’s a glimpse into human complexity, contradictoriness, and the unconscious. She could have a side to her which is infantile; therefore, she didn’t like being told what to do. So, she used the race card to try to get her way with what she presumed was a racist police force.
She did not produce good fruit, but rather hatred and prejudice. No one will ever admit that they are a racist, not Hitler and not even a KKK member. Certainly not an insurance manager.
What Amy did manage to do was to weaponize her whiteness to bludgeon a black bird watcher who called her out on her antisocial behavior. How far would Amy Cooper have taken her lie had it not been for the video? Would she like Carolyn Bryant recant on her death bed?
Sadly, as I write this, Los Angeles and the rest of our country burns in flames and riot mode as a result of another horrific story in the news where a white Minneapolis police officer, responding to a misdemeanor call, used his knee to pin George Floyd’s head to the ground. Floyd yelled, “I can’t breathe” and bystanders begged the officer to take his knee off the distressed man but to no avail.
Black Americans just keep dying at the hands of police. This is not an opinion but an irrefutable truth. At any other time, in any other setting, this would all be part of the dance of the Blue Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter. But in this instance it comes at a moment when our country is 3 ½ years into the presidency of Donald Trump, who uses racial discord not just as a campaign strategy but a governing technique. The big fear is that come November Trump will try to prevent African Americans from voting him out of office by using existing legal hurdles such as voter ID laws or by blocking the widespread use of mail-in ballots in progressive states like California.
My message is, “Your vote matters. If it did not no one would try to suppress it.”
One day, the Pledge of Allegiance, especially the “justice for all” part will fully apply to us all. For all those of you who are tired of reading about racism, I say I am tired writing this column. However, every year a racist incident comes roaring back just like the common cold.
Jorge Alexandría is a former U.S. Government official (Labor Dept.) and an Army veteran who received his B.A. in Political Science from Cal State Los Angeles. He also graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
He has more than 20 years of experience in claims handling, supervision, and risk management. He can be reached at Riskletter@mail.com.
Any views and knowledge expressed in this article belong to Jorge Alexandria alone and do not represent any other organization or person.
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