AILSA CHANG, HOST:
An incident in New York's Central Park this weekend was caught on video and went viral. A black man was out birdwatching. He asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash, and then he shot a video of the dog owner threatening to call the police on him.
Jen Chung is an editor at Gothamist, part of member station WNYC. And she's here with me now to explain what happened before and during this video and the consequences later.
JEN CHUNG, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: Hi. So can you start by just telling us how did this whole confrontation get started?
CHUNG: So Christian Cooper is a writer and an editor. He's also a birdwatcher. He's on the board of directors at the New York City Audubon, and he also happens to be black. He says he spotted a woman with her unleashed dog on Sunday morning in the Ramble, a 36-acre area of Central Park where dogs have to be on leash. And birdwatchers and other nature lovers have this issue with off-leash dogs and their owners all the time. So here's the beginning of the video that Christian Cooper took of their argument.
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AMY COOPER: Sir, I'm asking you to stop.
CHRISTIAN COOPER: Please don't come close to me.
A COOPER: Sir, I'm asking you to stop recording me.
C COOPER: Please don't come close to me.
A COOPER: Please take your phone off.
C COOPER: Please don't come close to me.
A COOPER: Then I'm taking pictures and calling the cops.
C COOPER: Please call the cops. Please call the cops.
A COOPER: I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life.
C COOPER: Please tell them whatever you like.
CHUNG: So as we heard on that video, the dog owner said she would call the police on him, which she did, and tell them that an African American man was threatening her life. But in the video, he's staying away at a distance. And he even says, don't come close to me. Still, later on, he (ph) tells the 911 operator I'm being threatened by a man in Central Park. Please send the cops immediately.
CHANG: Right. OK. And then how did tens of millions of people end up seeing this video?
CHUNG: Christian Cooper shared it on Facebook, and then his sister shared it on Twitter. And also, you know, the convergence of bird Twitter and black Twitter, you know, I think it became widely circulated because it was another unfortunate example of what black people face on a regular basis. And in this incident, the video appears to show a white woman trying to weaponize the police and exert power over a black man who pointed out she was breaking the rules.
CHANG: Right. She was the one breaking the rules at that point. Now this woman has since been identified. Can you just tell us a little bit about her?
CHUNG: Right. The Internet is a big place, but it also can be a small place. And they recognized her as Amy Cooper - no relation to Christian Cooper. And by the end of Sunday night, her employer Franklin Templeton, an asset management firm, put her on administrative leave. Also, the dog rescue organization where she got her dog announced that Amy Cooper surrendered her cocker spaniel mix. And in the video, another alarming detail you see is that she's dragging her dog by the collar.
CHANG: Right. And the dog is clearly struggling for air. Now has Christian Cooper talked about why he decided right then and there in that moment to film this entire interaction?
CHUNG: He told our local NBC affiliate that he did not want to participate in his own dehumanization and pointed out this is a moment when people are making assumptions about black people and black men, like Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down while running. The National Audubon Society also released a statement saying that black Americans often face terrible daily dangers in outdoor spaces where they are subjected to unwarranted suspicion, confrontation and violence. The outdoor and the joy of birds should be safe and welcoming for all people. They also added, we are grateful Christian Cooper is safe. He takes great delight in sharing New York City's birds with others and serves as a board member of the New York City Audubon Society, where he promotes conservation of New York City's outdoor spaces and inclusion of all people.
CHANG: And meanwhile, Amy Cooper, the woman at the center of this, she has since said a few things publicly about the incident. Can you tell us what she's shared?
CHUNG: Right. She has apologized and called her actions unacceptable and indefensible and that she didn't mean to harm the man in any way. But she also said that she is not a racist, though Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident racism, pure and simple. And just this afternoon, her employer Franklin Templeton announced they conducted an internal review and decided to fire her, saying that they do not tolerate racism of any kind.
CHANG: All right. Jen Chung is the executive editor at Gothamist, the digital arm of WNYC.
Thank you, Jen.
CHUNG: Thank you.
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