(originally posted 5/27/20)
Memorial day this year was quite a poignant day in our country, even beyond the current standard that is the pandemic we are living through. In the last couple of days, I feel like a very clear picture of American cultural and systemic racism emerged in a short time. When combined with Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia a few months ago, it is even more all-encompassing. In the Amy Cooper incident, we see the simmering cultural racism that lives under the surface of many of us white people, perhaps even without our knowledge. I was introduced to mine while working in nightclubs in Portland, OR, and have spent the years since learning to acknowledge it and stamp it out whenever it rears its ugly head. Whether Ms. Cooper’s actions were indicative of a conscious belief that people of color, specifically, are beneath her or she simply wanted to harness the racist realities of our society - which she was clearly aware of - to manipulate a situation to her own ends is not something I know. I do know that her actions were racist and heinous and her entitlement was put on remarkable display. Those actions, depicted in the video taken by Christian Cooper, the black birdwatcher whom she threatened and called the police on, are put into context by what happened in Minneapolis later that same evening.
An arrest involving the questioning of a suspect in a non-violent crime ended in the death of George Floyd due to a police officer kneeling on his neck for five minutes. Why anyone would kneel on somebody’s neck for five minutes with no intention of killing them is elusive at best. The officers were fired surprisingly quickly, which is good - it indicates some level of acknowledging wrongdoing - but it doesn’t save Mr. Floyd’s life nor is it the only time this sort of thing has happened. The fact that they were fired after such an event is far from common, and yet it is the bare minimum of responsibility, if even that. Anybody that incapable of not killing somebody should not be a police officer - and that’s with a forgiving interpretation that doesn’t assume deliberate malice. In my opinion they should be charged with manslaughter at least as their negligence and failure killed him.
The fact that these two events happened so close to each other and were both caught on film provides a profound video highlight of what seems to be (from my white, suburban-raised point of view) a common experience of the black person in America. Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper knowing full well that she was in the wrong and he was not. She made it very clear to the dispatcher that he was black, which indicates her understanding of the unequal system and an attempt to weaponize it. A suspect in a nonviolent crime (a suspect, there had been no charges yet) was killed in an arrest in Minneapolis by the police. While that particular event may not have been in New York City, the NYPD has come under plenty of their own consistent scrutiny for their treatment of black citizens - Eric Garner was suffocated to death in a similar way, also for a nonviolent crime. What would have happened if Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper had not been gone by the time the police responded to the call of a black man threatening a white woman? In this country, at this time, it is quite possible that Christian Cooper would have been killed by police as a result of asking Amy Cooper to obey the law by putting a leash on her dog.