There have been so many instances of white Americans calling the police to report black Americans doing mundane things — having a barbecue in a park, sitting beside or swimming in a pool, waiting for a friend at a coffee shop — that we have sadly lost count.
So, when video surfaced this week of a white woman, Amy Cooper, calling the police because a black man had asked her to put her dog on a leash — in a portion of New York City’s Central Park where dogs must be leashed — the scene was all too familiar.
Although the man, a bird watcher named Christian Cooper, remained calm and did not appear to move any closer to Amy Cooper in the video he shot on his phone, she tells him she will call the police and “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” She then does precisely that, her voice rising as she pleads “please send the cops immediately.”
It is Amy Cooper’s deliberate threat — calling the cops on an African American man — that is so troubling.
That threat has echoed through the decades in America. Don’t forget Emmet Till was brutally murdered because a white woman said the black teenager had made sexual advances toward her in a Mississippi grocery store. Decades later, she said the story was not true.
Just as there is an inexcusably long list of white people wrongly accusing black Americans of imagined sins, there is a horribly long record of police brutality against black men.
On Tuesday, four police officers in Minneapolis were fired for their role in the death of George Floyd, a black man who was being questioned about forgery, according to police.
A video shows Floyd handcuffed on the ground next to a police car. An unidentified officer has his knee on Floyd’s neck, pressing his face into the pavement for several minutes. Floyd, who pleaded that he couldn’t breath, later died.
This is why Amy Cooper’s threat is so insidious. Not only will the police likely rush to the rescue of a white woman who claims she is being threatened by an African American man, but there is also the likelihood that the man will be mistreated by police. African American men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police than white men, according to recent research by three university professors. Many of the African American men killed by police, like Floyd, were unarmed.
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men, and young men of color face exceptionally high risk of being killed by police,” the researchers wrote. “Inequalities in risk are pronounced throughout the life course.”
This disparity in police treatment, as Cooper herself later acknowledged, is the ultimate in white privilege.
“When I think about the police, I’m such a blessed person. I’ve come to realize especially today that I think of [the police] as a protection agency, and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there are so many people in this country that don’t have that luxury,” Amy Cooper said in an apology during an interview with NBC New York.
It should not take a situation like Amy Cooper’s angry confrontation with a fellow human being being exposed to the world to open our eyes to the racial disparities in how we interact with the police — and how they respond to us.
Despite sharing a last name, there unfortunately is little doubt that a white person named Cooper and a black person named Cooper still don’t always live in the same America
Threatening to call the police on a person of color because they are a person of color is the height of racism. That racism too often has deadly consequences.
The only way we can break this decadeslong cycle is to stop seeing people who are different from us as a threat, especially when they’re just swimming in a pool, driving down the street or bird watching in a park.