On birds, privilege, and false allegations: Is it fair that Amy Cooper is not on trial?
The same day George Floyd died, a white woman called 911 to denounce an African-American man who was "threatening" her in Central Park. It was a lie. Now the case has been dismissed.
In the judicial system, precedents matter. A landmark victory in court can change the fate not only of a person sitting in a courtroom but send a powerful message to those who seek to follow the same path.
On 25 May 2020, the country experienced a general shudder that fuelled the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests: George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by a police officer who drove his knee into the African-American's neck and did not heed his pleas for air. Many other cases of institutionalized racial violence followed.
But that 25 May was also the day that a shocking video of a New York woman phoning 911 claiming that Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher who had called her attention to the way she was treating her dog, was threatening her. No, she didn't say that. The woman said, "An African-American man is threatening my life." And she repeated that he was Black several times.
Amy Cooper, the woman in question, was white, and she was exercising her privilege. She was committing the crime of false reporting of an incident, a "minor" but fairly common charge with brown and black people as its primary victims by virtue of prejudices as deeply rooted in society as weed in Central Park.
Although the woman lost her job, temporary custody of her dog, and was heavily criticized in those days, with an extensive NYT coverage, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. decided to take Ms. Cooper to court - it was to be one of the first charges faced by a white person in the United States for making a false (and racist) allegation against a person of color.
Although, quite legitimately, Christian Cooper chose to take pity on the woman on the grounds that she had already extinguished a "high price," the prosecution succeeded. At least fleetingly...
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon asked the judge to dismiss Cooper's felony charge, which could have led to a year in prison after she had attended five sessions of therapy that included instruction on racial bias. And the judge agreed.
According to Cooper's therapist, the sessions were "a moving experience," and the woman "learned a lot," prosecutor Illuzzi-Orbon said. She also said Cooper had offered to attend an educational program if the charge was dismissed, as it was her first arrest.
The agreement, she said, was "designed not to punish, but to educate and promote community healing," and she asserted that the resolution was within restorative justice, an alternative to traditional prosecution that seeks to reconcile the parties, including society.
Many see the end of the controversial incident as a "skimming" solution to the false and racist allegations against minorities with no trial and no guilty plea. The woman was treated more favorably because she was white.
Among them, Manhattan district attorney candidate Eliza Orlins, who was not surprised by the announcement of the dismissal of the case:
"This is how the system was designed to work: to protect the privileged from accountability," she said on Twitter.
The NYT highlighted a report released by the Manhattan district attorney's office, which noted that of the 328 people referred to Manhattan Justice Opportunities, the organization that handled Cooper's case, 46% were black, and 23% were Hispanic.
As many social justice advocates have claimed since the beginning of this case, Prison does not seem to be the answer; however, it is perhaps desirable to rethink what would happen if the opposite was the case.
Christian Cooper had compassion for his attacker, was hurt by her racism, and said that her life didn't need to be destroyed.
Perhaps the empathy and forgiveness of a simple bird-watcher are not enough to bring the bigots to their senses, nor does it compensate for the damage done.
But we wish everyone would look with perspective, "from a bird's eye view," and not just from their position of privilege and prejudice.
Justice should be fair for ALL.