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One year ago, a police call in Central Park set the stage for a racial reckoning

Before May 25, 2020 became the day George Floyd was murdered, it started out as the day a white woman got canceled.

Considering that Floyd’s death inspired a vast social movement not seen since the 1960s, it’s understandable that Amy Cooper, who notoriously called the police on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park, has been relegated to a footnote in the story of America’s reckoning with everything from Black equality to the role of police in upholding white supremacy. A year later, however, both events still feel tethered together in a way that helps explain some of what’s happened in America since.

Just about every average day online has a main character. On this particular morning, that person was Amy Cooper, who got into a dispute with birder Christian Cooper (no relation) over his objection to her keeping a cocker spaniel off leash in an area of the park that forbids it. The dispute escalated, as such things do, but ended up in a sinister place: Amy Cooper promised to call the police and report that “an African American man” was “threatening” her.

Had Christian Cooper’s video of the incident ended with this threat, it would have been bad enough. What followed was worse. She made good on her word, reporting to the police an “African American” menace, raising her voice to an upper register of emotionality that had been missing prior to the call. Once the video surfaced, Amy Cooper briefly became the most famous person in the world to millions of people. In short order she lost her job, had her dog briefly taken away, and eventually got charged with filing a false police report. (The charge has since been dropped.) At first, she seemed like just the latest in a long line of entitled white people to earn internet-fueled ignominy, joining the ranks of BBQ BeckyPermit Patty, and Corner Store Caroline. Media outlets even referred to her as Central Park Karen, as though she were just another “I’d like to speak with your manager” type, a walking avatar of white privilege.

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