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When Being a ‘Karen’ Turns Criminal? Central Park Dog-Walker Could Be Prosecuted

Another day, another white woman called the police on a black man for a nonsensical reason. This time, Amy Cooper was walking her dog in a wooded area of Central Park called “the Ramble.” As Cooper strolled through the park with her new dog off-leash, she encountered 57-year-old science editor Christian Cooper (no relation) and the two argued about the park’s rule that dogs be leashed at all times.

According to Christian Cooper’s later Facebook post, Amy Cooper refused to put her dog on a leash, saying, “The dog runs are closed. He needs his exercise.”

After further argument, Christian Cooper said, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.” His threat? To give the dog some treats. Christian Cooper, an avid birdwatcher, says he often carries dog treats for precisely these occasions. According to his account of the incident, he pulled the treats out and Amy Cooper immediately began screaming “don’t you touch my dog!” Christian Cooper began filming.

Here’s what he wrote on Facebook about the incident:

Central Park this morning: This woman’s dog is tearing through the plantings in the Ramble.

ME: Ma’am, dogs in the Ramble have to be on the leash at all times. The sign is right there.
HER: The dog runs are closed. He needs his exercise.
ME: All you have to do is take him to the other side of the drive, outside the Ramble, and you can let him run off leash all you want.
HER: It’s too dangerous.
ME: Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.
HER: What’s that?
ME (to the dog): Come here, puppy!
HER: He won’t come to you.
ME: We’ll see about that…

I pull out the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence. I didn’t even get a chance to toss any treats to the pooch before Karen scrambled to grab the dog.

HER: DON’T YOU TOUCH MY DOG!!!!!

That’s when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn…

Christian Cooper’s sister later shared the video:

In the video, Amy Cooper can be heard repeatedly saying that she is going to call police and “tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

When asked why he chose to film the encounter, Christian Cooper said, “We live in an age of Ahmaud Arbery where black men are gunned down because of assumptions people make about black men, black people, and I’m just not going to participate in that.”

But could this woman actually be prosecuted for her phone call? She sure could. In New York, making a false report is a class A misdemeanor.

Under Section 240.50, a person is guilty if she, “Initiates or circulates a false report” of something that didn’t actually happen, or, “gratuitously reports to a law enforcement officer or agency…an allegedly impending occurrence of an offense or incident which in fact is not about to occur.” So, Amy Cooper’s near-hysterical call to police that an African American man was threatening her life, and threatening her dog appears to fit squarely within the confines of the false reporting statute. Cooper has spoken to several news outlets and apologized for her behavior; those apologies, particularly when taken together with the video, tend to confirm that her reporting of the incident was false.

She said that she was afraid, not a racist.

“I think I was just scared,” she said. “When you’re alone in the Ramble, you don’t know what’s happening. It’s not excusable, it’s not defensible.”

The penalty for class A misdemeanors in New York is up to one year in jail, and a fine up to $1,000.

Although Amy Cooper has not been charged for making a false report, she has already faced some consequences. Animal Rescue has reportedly taken possession of her dog.

She has also been placed on administrative leave by her employer, investment company Franklin Templeton.

Amy Cooper said her “entire life is being destroyed right now.”

Later Tuesday, Franklin Templeton the employee involved in the Central Park “incident” was fired.

“We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company said.

Eliza Orlins, a decade-long public defender turned Manhattan DA candidate, commented that this incident could have gone a very different way if Christian Cooper had not recorded it.

Editor’s note: story was updated to reflect that Amy Cooper was fired.

[screengrab via Christian Cooper]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos