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New York dog walker made second call to accuse black bird-watcher

The hearing was the latest development in the Memorial Day weekend encounter that resonated across the country and reignited discussions about the potential danger of false accusations made to police about black people.

Christian Cooper spoke with the media about the incident in Central Park.

Christian Cooper spoke with the media about the incident in Central Park.

Cooper was filmed calling 911 from an isolated area in Central Park after a black man asked her to leash her dog, as the rules required. During the first call, she said multiple times that an “African American man” was threatening her, emphasising his race to the operator as she raised her voice frantically.

Video of the encounter, shot by the man, Christian Cooper, on his phone, has been viewed nearly 45 million times. Its timing, one day before protests erupted nationwide over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, only deepened its role in sparking outrage over what many viewed as an example of everyday racism. (Amy Cooper is not related to Christian Cooper.)

But prosecutors said Cooper made a later call to 911, which was not shown in the video. In that call, Cooper told the dispatcher that Christian Cooper had tried to assault her, according to a criminal complaint.

When police arrived, however, Cooper told an officer that her reports were untrue and that Christian Cooper had not touched or assaulted her, the complaint said.

The criminal complaint mentioned two calls, but charged her with only one count.

Illuzzi told the court that Cooper had used police in a way that was “both racially offensive and designed to intimidate,” and that her actions were “something that can’t be ignored.”

Still, the prosecutor said the district attorney’s office was exploring a resolution to the case that would require Cooper to take responsibility for her actions in court and attend a program to educate her on how harmful they were.

“We hope this process will enlighten, heal and prevent similar harm to our community in the future,” Illuzzi said.

Judge Nicholas Moyne adjourned the case until November 17 to give Cooper’s lawyer, Robert Barnes, and prosecutors time to work out the details of an agreement.

“We will hold people who make false and racist 911 calls accountable,” the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement Wednesday. “Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the police response to Ms. Cooper’s hoax.”

Barnes said in July that Cooper would be found not guilty if the case went to trial and criticised what he called a “cancel culture epidemic.”

“How many lives are we going to destroy over misunderstood 60-second videos on social media?” he asked. Barnes declined to comment Wednesday.

Vance’s decision to charge Cooper drew mixed reactions from black community leaders and proponents of overhauling the criminal justice system. He also did not have the support of Christian Cooper, who has long been a prominent birder in the city and sits on the board of the New York City Audubon Society.

As the episode gained widespread attention across the country, Cooper, who had been a head of insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, lost her job and was publicly shamed. She also surrendered her dog temporarily to the rescue group from which she had adopted it.

At the time, Christian Cooper, a 57-year-old Harvard graduate who works in communications, said that the consequences and public backlash she had faced were already enough. He did not cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation and said in a statement in July that “bringing her more misery just seems like piling on.”

In an interview Wednesday, Christian Cooper declined to answer specific questions about the second 911 call or about Amy Cooper’s potential plea deal. The encounter in Central Park was “not about Amy Cooper,” he said, but about a larger societal problem.

“My response is very simple: We have to make sure we don’t get distracted,” Christian Cooper said. “We have a very important goal — and we have to stay focused on it — which is reforming policing, getting systemic change to the structural racism in our society.”

Weeks after the confrontation, New York state lawmakers approved legislation entitling people to “a private right of action” if they believed that someone called police on them because of their race, gender, nationality or any other protected class. The move was a direct response to the Central Park run-in and other false reports to police about black people.

The New York Times

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