The Dangerous Ballad Of Amy Cooper
How Systemic Whiteness Kills Black People With Three Keystrokes
I don’t care if people call her “Karen”. I call Amy Cooper a criminal, a racist, a weaponizing agent of blatant, overt racism, terroristic threats based on race and arguably attempted murder. And once again, in all its horror, a cellphone video captured it for the world to see. Whiteness in action. Systemic whiteness in action. The racist crime was unfolding right there in broad daylight, Ahmaud Arbery, before your very eyes on Monday in Central Park in coronavirus-ravaged New York City, a city where many Latinx people and Black people have already died from COVID-19, and at alarming, highly disproportionate rates.
Christian Cooper (no relation), a Black man, was birdwatching in Central Park, New York City on Monday, May 25, 2020 in an area of the park (Ramble) where city law mandates that dogs be on a leash. Amy Cooper, who was in Ramble, had her dog off-leash. Christian was asking Amy to put her dog on a leash as the signs in the park require.
Then this happened:
Christian Cooper’s life could have easily been taken by Amy Cooper’s lies the way Carolyn Bryant and her lies led to the lynching and gruesome dismemberment of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. (In 2008 Bryant admitted she lied about Till.) Yet across the USA long before 1955 and since, white people have repeatedly lied about Black people in reflexive and racist-motivated phone calls to police. These phone calls by white people are poisonous Bat-signals to prospective police killers. Many of those phone calls have resulted in police killing Black people. Black people who were merely living their lives.
Amy Cooper is fully aware of Eric Garner, Emmett Till, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Charleena Lyles, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Sean Reed (and now George Floyd.) The list of dead Black bodies grows. And it stands to reason that Amy Cooper, like the other white people who have made these lying, destructive phone calls (and not paid any price criminally for doing so) was more than aware her phone call could lead to a person dying. In a dangerous, wicked, casual, cavalier way Amy Cooper tells Christian Cooper with full awareness she is being recorded that “I’m gonna tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.” Her words are chilling, dispositive throwaways uttered in the same way you might say “oh well, I wish you had saved some sweet potato pie for me.”
Cooper, who is surely a psychopath, knew that whiteness would insulate her because whiteness in America has insulated so many other white people before her (and many after) including Ronald Richie, who in 2016 didn’t face any prosecution for false reporting after saying John Crawford III was waving a gun around in a Walmart in Ohio, conveniently omitting that the gun Crawford had (and wasn’t waving) while on his cellphone, was a toy gun from the store’s shelf. Crawford was immediately shot dead by police while he talked. Amy Cooper knew that systemic whiteness would protect her because it has protected people who look like her for centuries—at the expense of Black people’s lives.
Now that Amy Cooper has lost her job at Franklin Templeton Investments, she should be charged with a hate crime (terroristic threats against a Black person) — with the requisite intent that hate crime requires. Her words “I’m gonna tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life” is an explicit expression of intent, verbalized to the very Black man to whom she is speaking and threatening. And it’s there on video for the world to see. At minimum Amy Cooper should be arrested and charged with aggravated harassment, assault, menacing and reckless endangerment. She should also be charged with animal cruelty for the brutal and indifferent manner in which she handles her dog, almost lynching it as it gasps for air. (She would later have the dog taken from her.)
All of these 69 seconds of terror, engineered by a one-woman wrecking crew including the terrifying phone call, the threat to a man’s life and the choking of a dog form a graphic, disturbing cocktail that approximates a real-life edition of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out, complete with the arbor proliferating that film’s southern U.S. setting.
But this was New York City. 2020.
And *this* has never gone away.
Not only has a systemic racist and institutionally racist system been ever present in America but as importantly and tellingly, an overall white apathy, indifference and “it’s not my fault or even my ancestors” posture has never gone away either. There are notable exceptions: John Brown, Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb, Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Heather Heyer among other white people, who have literally died advocating for or saving Black lives.
These days sizable numbers of white people in the USA don’t even want to wear a mask let alone sacrifice. As mostly vast numbers of Black people and Brown people and Native Americans die from COVID-19. The sociopathic and psychopathic throngs of white people (young and older) in numerous American cities today who spit on, cough on and deliberately, intrusively get near others, is relentless and monstrously evil.
Mamie Lee Till in 1995. She gave her son Emmett an open coffin funeral saying “I want the world to see what they did” to Emmett Till. (Chicago Sun-Times/AP)
Whether it is Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Christian Cooper (the latter is the fortunate Black man whose life thankfully remains intact) so many everyday white people, except for a small segment of those on Twitter and the anti-racists in the world, just quietly move along. Across America the average white person condones and assents in the face of clearly observable and demonstrable injustice, whether in their workplace, on video or before their eyes right in front of them live. Few actively challenging members of their family or their virtually all-white communities. This is true especially when such white people observe daily white racist behavior, comments or situations against Black people, Latinx or Asians (who are being attacked all over the USA now in the wake of Donald Trump’s lack of leadership and abundance of racist comments.) And with all these evils in view many simply gawk at the target of the racism (not at the racist, mind you) or say nothing at all.
How many Amy Coopers are there in America? In the world?
How many Amy Coopers are there in your workplace?
How many Amy Coopers are there in your apartment building?
In your family?
In your circle of friends?
In political leadership?
In company management?
In news media boardrooms?
In doctor’s offices and hospitals?
If you are white, when you were a child did your parents explicitly teach you not to hate Black people? Or did they passively say nothing to you, and leave you to figure out things on your own? Or let other people, racist people, shape your mind with hatred and poison? Or did your parents themselves teach you to be racist?
Did your parents teach you to use your white privilege positively to uplift and achieve a small but key semblance of justice and parity, or did you get taught to use your privilege the way Amy Cooper (and many other white people in phone call situations) used hers against Christian Cooper? Can you honestly say you were taught not to hate?
What if you as a white parent taught your child not to hate? What if you taught your child to use white privilege affirmatively to help those constantly attacked by an institutionally racist society? What if white people, who have many a White Citizens Council in the U.S. and endless neighborhood watch associations in their communities, put together White Anti-Racist Councils in their neighborhoods all across the USA? Zoom is waiting for your weekly meetings.
What if concerned white people went into their white neighborhoods in the USA and challenged white people to end their racism and unlearn it? What if demonstrations were held weekly by white people in white neighborhoods? What if white people who cared decided in the many hundreds of thousands across the country to shut America down by going on strike and refusing to move until police and white people stopped killing Black people and Brown people?
Had white people been killed by police in the USA as frequently and as brazenly as Black people are, with a cavalcade of videos put out like daily MTV graphic hits, this police killing of people in America would have stopped decades ago.
James Baldwin made this appeal years ago:
James Baldwin may be long gone, but he is still right. From the grave. From the grave of George Floyd.
For some white people in America Amy Cooper may be a pantomime villain, someone that a particular (read: racist) kind of white person can readily hold up to assuage their own sense of guilt around race, racism and the endless parade of white phone calls to police or continual white killings of Black people. Amy Cooper is someone they can look at and say, “hey, I’m not like her!” The nicknames for white women or any white man who calls the police on Black people for nothing at all except that white person’s own racism or racist fears may be an arresting of their discomfort. Or the euphemism “Karen” (not meant as a euphemism but still seems like one) which is really an actual way of saying that “Karen” is a symbolizing of entitlement or further, racist terror—and a weaponizing of it.
The conscience of an Amy Cooper still exists in America.
That Cooper thought absolutely nothing at all of weaponizing her white fragility into potential white male violence against a Black man who was minding his own business and asking her to observe the laws explicitly posted in Central Park in the Ramble shows you how deeply ingrained and embedded white privilege and automatic racist impulses are in white people. This sickness and automation has existed for centuries and pre-existed Donald Trump. Trump, a racist himself, has tapped into what he and all of us knows very well: that there is a broad cross-section (in 2016 it was 65 percent of white males and 53 percent of white females) of white people who support, uphold and espouse the racism he openly flaunts and has flaunted since the 1970s.
Donald Trump wouldn’t flaunt his racism if he knew that the vast majority of white people in the USA didn’t agree with it or believe it or harbor it themselves. Sixty-three million people, most of them white, voted for him in 2016. What he said resonated.
After all, the society and its structures also reinforce racism and institutionalize racial discrimination against Black people and has done so for centuries.
In short, Amy Cooper is the conscience of a vast majority of white Americans.
And it is up to white people in America (and beyond) to start challenging and attacking that deadly, dangerous conscience in their very own families and friends.
That call has gone out from Black people and some white people of good conscience to other white people in America for centuries.
Centuries have passed and that call remains largely unheard and unheeded.
Below: The Politicrat podcast: Amy Cooper And All-American Whiteness