By Sarah Maslin Nir
New York – Christian Cooper started Memorial Day like most mornings in May, looking for orange-billed warblers, scarlet pirangas, and other songbirds that hovered through Central Park.
In his Lower East Side apartment, Cooper, 57, hung his most precious possession around his neck, an expensive gift his late father gave him when he turned 50: Swarovski binoculars. She left her boyfriend still asleep in bed and pedaled nearly five kilometers on her bicycle to reach the semi-wild section of the park, called the “Ramble”.RELATED
About the same time, Amy Cooper, 40, who is not related to Christian Cooper, left her apartment on the Upper West Side, on the banks of the Hudson River. He was with his dog, Henry, a golden-haired cocker spaniel he adopted from a shelter and whose adventures around the city are recorded in chronicles published on an Instagram account specially created for that purpose.
Right in the “Ramble” section, the clash between the lives of these two Cooper’s occurred, whose roar, despite being brief, resonated throughout New York City and beyond, and has given rise to terrible conversations about racism. and hypocrisy in one of the most progressive cities in the nation.
It was only a few hours later that the murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis, when a police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck too long as he subdued him. The two Memorial Day incidents captured two facets of the entrenched racism black people face on video: one illustrates the horror of police violence and the other the routine humiliations and threats of daily life.
Just before eight o’clock in the morning, the cries of Amy Cooper, who was calling her dog, distracted Christian Cooper from the calmness with which he was observing birds, he said. Immediately, he asked the owner to put the leash on Henry, as the park rules indicate, to which she refused.
They exchanged words, and as he recorded the altercation on her phone, she threatened to report “an African-American man who is threatening my life,” a false accusation. So while Christian Cooper was still filming, the woman called 911.
The video shows that before and during the call to 911, Amy referred to Christian Cooper as “African-American” three times. Later, Christian Cooper’s sister posted the video on Twitter, where she has had more than 40 million views.
Since then, their lives have taken diametrically opposite directions. Amy Cooper was fired from her excellent job in finance, had to give up her dog for a time, and has become the epitome of racism and white privilege. Christian Cooper has appeared on shows like “The View” and is now so widely recognized that a Bronx candidate for Congress announced that he had the backing of Christian Cooper.
Before that day, both Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper were successful professionals who had studied at prestigious institutions, they both loved animals and so they were in that area of Central Park, a refuge within the city. However, if we look at their lives more closely, it is evident that their meeting, to a certain extent, brought to light a very revealing reflection of the personality of each of them.
Christian Cooper is quite a “nerd”: he memorizes bird songs and learns phrases from the Klingon language of Star Trek. However, he also has something of an activist, because he does not remain silent in the face of the injustices of society.
On one occasion, he founded his own nonprofit group to back Democrats in an election, and his fondness for comic books helped break down barriers when he created one of the first gay Star Trek characters.
Central Park bird watchers consider him a mentor, even those who disagree with his preferred tactic to protect the bird sanctuary – he uses treats to lure off-leash dogs and compel their owners to restrain them (during The meeting in Central Park offered one of those treats to Amy Cooper’s dog.)
Amy Cooper, an immigrant from Canada, is caring and kind, according to her friends. Unfortunately, his personality also seems to display a conflicting facet. Her neighbors described a tendency to have personal conflicts.
His personal life once came to court. A few years ago, according to a lawsuit she filed, she became involved with a married man to whom she loaned $ 65,000. When the man refused to leave his wife for her, he filed a lawsuit in Manhattan to recover the money; the case was settled with an agreement.
Although Amy Cooper released an apology to Christian Cooper after their meeting, she has not made a public statement since then. Authorities are considering charging her with filing a false complaint with the police.
Amy Cooper did not respond to any of our requests for comment.
The dog walker
The Amy Cooper building on the Upper West Side was formerly known as Trump Place, but liberal residents stopped using that name as a symbolic expression of rejection of the President.
The people in the building knew Amy Cooper because of her attachment to her cocker spaniel. They described her as a constant presence on morning walks and dog birthdays.
“From what I saw, she was very dedicated to her animals,” said Maria Meade, 60, who lives in a nearby building. “The only thing I can say is that I never spoke directly to people. He always spoke through his dog, in a baby voice. It was very strange. “
It is not possible to determine to what extent people’s memories of Amy Cooper’s behavior have been influenced by news of her altercation in Central Park. Either way, some residents claimed they kept their distance because, they said, their behavior towards other dog walkers and building staff was somewhat provocative.
Another neighbor, Marisol de Leon, 40, said that Amy Cooper used to walk Henry off leash and was angry when someone told him not to. “It gave the impression that he felt fully entitled to do so,” De Leon explained.
Before moving to New York, Amy Cooper lived in Ontario, Canada, where she attended the University of Waterloo. He earned a master’s degree from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, according to his CV.
He worked at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and AIG, according to his CV. She worked at Franklin Templeton for five years, where she managed to hold the position of Vice President of Insurance Portfolio Management, with the responsibility of making investments for insurers.
A day after the video went viral, some internet comments said that the Instagram account dedicated to Henry documented injuries sustained by the dog. That night, the pressure was already such that Amy Cooper was forced to return the dog to the Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue shelter.
On June 3, the organization stated that it had returned Henry to Amy Cooper, at her request, after the vet ruled that his condition was good.
The Bird Watcher
During a road trip with his family when he was 11 years old, Christian Cooper received a copy of the book “The Birds of North America” to keep himself busy. By the time the tour in a Volkswagen van ended with his sister, Melody, and his parents, two Long Island teachers, he had already memorized the entire text, he said, and was able to identify the birds that flew by.
He had the same fondness for comics, which he used to kick off his career after graduating from Harvard with a degree in Political Science.
“The ‘X-Men’ were a perfect allegory for the homosexual experience,” he explained to Wired magazine during an interview in 1998. “The X-Men looked like the rest of the people, but in adolescence they discovered a great deal. secret that made them different ”.
In the late 1980s, Christian Cooper served on the board of directors of GLAAD, the former Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, and established his own political action committee with the goal of supporting Democrats in the race for the New York Senate, according to a biography broadcast on “Gay USA,” a televised news program devoted to gay issues, in which Christian Cooper was sometimes the host.
In 1998, he released “Queer Nation,” a cutting-edge gay web comic whose LGBTQ superheroes were fighting the scourge of a world order of right-wing ideology. As he told Wired, his parents partly inspired this project, as they actively participated in the civil rights movement.
Christian Cooper is currently a senior editor at Health Science Communications, a public relations agency for the health care industry. However, some people have pointed out that his CV does not detract from the universality of his experience as a black man.
“I have no doubt that, if the police had turned up in the Ramble, a wooded area of the park where Chris had gone birdwatching, neither my brother’s title issued by an Ivy League university nor his impressive resume would have protected him, ”wrote his sister, Melody, in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on May 31.
The greatest constants in Christian Cooper’s life have been the Central Park thrushes, sparrows, and swallows.
Just off 79th Cross Street, the semi-wild section of the park called Ramble is a refuge this time of year for migratory birds.
In that area there are special rules to protect them, such as that dogs must wear their leash at all times; it is a microcosm away from the tensions of the city: a middle space between nature and urban life, between solitude and socialization.
Christian Cooper is a well-known presence there, a mentor to neophyte observers who inspires great respect for them as a counselor to the Audubon Society in New York City.
“He has his own method of dealing with dogs. He often says, “Could you please put a leash on your dog?” And if the person refuses, he starts giving the dogs treats, “said Zach McDargh, 29, who is an investigator. “The owners are very upset.”
Around eight in the morning on Memorial Day, Henry was jumping down the Ramble; its owner refused to put the strap on properly after Christian Cooper asked him to, so he searched his pockets for one of those treats.
“Well if you do what you want, I will also do what I want, but you will not like it,” he recalls saying, according to his Facebook post about the incident, and then he took out his phone to record the improper behavior.
In the video, Amy Cooper is seen lashing out at him and threatening to call 911 to say the man was threatening her life.
Some police officers responded to a complaint about an attack that never occurred. Police later classified the incident as a “verbal conflict.”
“I was very aware that at that time I had become a target of the police, and that does not mean that they would necessarily kill me,” said Christian Cooper later. “But it is never a nice situation to be black and there is some suspicion.”
That morning, aware that the police were very likely to appear soon, Christian Cooper recorded his next actions with great clarity in his memory.
He picked up the Swarovski binoculars around his neck again and continued to search for areas where feathers appeared in the tops of the plane trees.
“I kept my business,” said Christian Cooper. “I got out of business with birdwatching, as is my custom.”
Nate Schweber and Alex Traub contributed to this report. Kitty Bennett assisted with the investigation.