Birds

How 2 Lives Collided in Central Park, Rattling the Nation

NEW YORK — Christian Cooper began his Memorial Day like most of his May mornings, searching for Blackburnian warblers, scarlet tanagers and other songbirds that wing their way into Central Park.In his Lower East Side apartment, Cooper, 57, slung on his prize possession, his Swarovski binoculars — a pricey 50th birthday present from his late father. Leaving his boyfriend asleep in bed, he biked 3 miles away, to the semi-wild section of the park, the Ramble.Around the same time, Amy Cooper, 40, who is not related to Christian Cooper, left her apartment on the Upper West Side at the edge of the Hudson River. She was with her dog, Henry, a blond cocker spaniel she had rescued and whose romps around the city she chronicled on a dedicated Instagram account.It was in the Ramble that the two Coopers’ lives collided, an encounter that was brief but would reverberate in New York City and beyond, stirring anguished conversations about racism and hypocrisy in one of the nation’s most progressive cities.Only a few hours later, George Floyd would be killed in Minneapolis when a police officer pinned Floyd’s neck under his knee. The two Memorial Day incidents captured on video two facets of entrenched racism black people experience: one the horrors of police brutality, the other the routine humiliations and threats in daily life.Just before 8 a.m., Christian Cooper was startled from his quiet birding by Amy Cooper, who was loudly calling after her dog, he said. He asked her to leash Henry, as the park rules required. She refused.They exchanged words, and as he recorded on his phone, she threatened to report that “an African American man is threatening my life,” a false accusation. Then as Christian Cooper continued to film, she called 911.The video clip shows that before and during the 911 call, she referred to Christian Cooper as “African American,” three times. Christian Cooper’s sister later posted the clip to Twitter, where it has been viewed more than 40 million times.Their lives have gone in drastically different directions since then. Amy Cooper was fired from her high-level finance job, she temporarily surrendered her dog and has been vilified as the embodiment of racism and white privilege. Christian Cooper has appeared on “The View” and has become such a celebrated figure that a congressional candidate in the Bronx publicized Christian Cooper’s endorsement.Amy Cooper with her dog, Henry. (Alison Faircloth via The New York Times)His experience has also been highlighted by prominent black politicians, from former President Barack Obama to the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, during the protests over Floyd’s death.Christian Cooper said the encounter touched a nerve and evoked a long history of racism. “It’s not about her,” he said in an interview.“What she did was tap into a deep vein of racial bias,” Christian Cooper added. “And it is that deep vein of racial bias that keeps cropping up that led to much more serious events and much more serious repercussions than my little dust-up with Amy Cooper — the murder of George Floyd, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and before that Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.”Before that day, Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper were both successful professionals with prestigious degrees and a love of animals, which drew them to that haven in the city, Central Park. But a deeper look at their lives shows that their encounter was to some extent a telling reflection of their personalities.Christian Cooper warmly embraces serious nerdiness, memorizing bird song and learning bits of the Klingon language from Star Trek. But he also has an activist’s bent, bristling at so
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