Christian Cooper on Amy Cooper’s Fate and Central Park Birdwatching


His binoculars round his neck, Christian Cooper, an avid birder, was again in his glad place on Wednesday: Central Park throughout migration season. He was making an attempt to focus on the olive-sided flycatchers and red-bellied woodpeckers — not on what had occurred there two days earlier.

That was when Mr. Cooper, who’s black, requested a white girl to place her canine on a leash. When she didn’t, he started filming. In response, the girl stated she would inform the police that “an African-American man is threatening my life” earlier than dialing 911.

“Any of us can make — not necessarily a racist mistake, but a mistake,” Mr. Cooper said, “And to get that kind of tidal wave in such a compressed period of time, it’s got to hurt. It’s got to hurt.”

A gray catbird darted around his hiking boots.

“I’m not excusing the racism,” he said. “But I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart.”

He opened his mouth to speak further and then stopped himself. He had been about to say the phrase, “that poor woman,” he later acknowledged, but he could not bring himself to complete the thought.

“She went racial. There are certain dark societal impulses that she, as a white woman facing in a conflict with a black man, that she thought she could marshal to her advantage,” he said.

“I don’t know if it was a conscious thing or not,” he added. “But she did it, and she went there.”

Mr. Cooper’s love of birding began at age 10, he said, when his parents, two Long Island schoolteachers, enrolled him in a 4-H program. There, in a woodworking class, he crafted a bird feeder that he set in his lawn.

A northern rough-winged swallow alighted on a branch and Mr. Cooper, 57, trained his lenses on it for a while.

Then he resumed. “If we are going to make progress, we’ve got to address these things, and if this painful process is going to help us address this — there’s the yellow warbler!” Mr. Cooper said, cutting himself off to peer around with his binoculars.

At length, he turned his eyes away from the tops of the London plane trees and continued where he had left off:

“If this painful process — oh, a Baltimore oriole just flew across!— helps to correct, or takes us a step further toward addressing the underlying racial, horrible assumptions that we African-Americans have to deal with, and have dealt with for centuries, that this woman tapped into, then it’s worth it,” he said, setting his binoculars down on his chest.

“Sadly, it has to come at her expense,” he added.

On Tuesday, Ms. Cooper was fired by her employer, Franklin Templeton, where she had been a head of insurance portfolio management, according to her LinkedIn page.

Ms. Cooper, who graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, also surrendered her dog, Henry, to the rescue organization she had adopted him from, the same day, according to a Facebook post by the group.

She issued a public apology to Mr. Cooper, whom she had encountered in a semi-wild part of the park called The Ramble, where dogs must be leashed.

After she refused to tether her dog on Memorial Day, Mr. Cooper said, he attempted to lure the dog with treats, to induce her to restrain her pet. In a statement, Ms. Cooper said she had misread his intent.

“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” Ms. Cooper said in the statement.

She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On Wednesday, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights began an investigation into Ms. Cooper’s actions.

On his birding walk Wednesday, Mr. Cooper said he had read her apology.

He called it “a start.” He said he was not interested in meeting her or in any face-to-face reconciliation.

He has developed a virtuoso’s ear for their birdsong, and can identify them by chirp. (“There’s a myth that I have the best ears in the park,” he said. “It’s a myth.”)

As he has pursued his passion, he has been keenly aware of the fact that there appear to be few other African-American men invested in the hobby, excluded by the same subtle messaging he gets when he is followed around in shops, he said.

And he is aware that the image he cuts — as a man often shuffling the undergrowth after a rare bird, with a metal object, the binoculars, in his hand — can read differently for a black person than for a white person.

It doesn’t stop him.

“We should be out here. The birds belong to all of us,” he said. “The birds don’t care what color you are.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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