Christian Cooper, a history-making gay editor, went viral for all the wrong reasons this week after he was the victim of a racist tirade in New York City’s Central Park.
Cooper, a senior biomedical editor and keen birdwatcher, was in the Ramble in Central Park on Monday when he spotted a woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), walking her dog without a leash.
Park rules require dogs to be leashed, and Cooper — who also sits on the board of bird conservation organization the National Audubon Society — informed the woman of the rules and asked her to leash her dog to protect ground-dwelling birds in the area, he told CNN.
In a video of the incident recorded by Cooper, who is black, the white woman responds by running towards him, demanding he cease filming and telling him she will phone police, claiming that an “African-American man is threatening” her.
“I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” Amy Cooper said. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
Christian Cooper remained calm throughout, telling her to call police and continuing to film her. The woman proceeds to call 9-1-1 while dragging her dog around by its collar. In the video, the dog can be heard choking and yelping for her to let go.
“I’m sorry, I’m in the Ramble,” Amy Cooper said during the 9-1-1 call. “There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” Her voice continues to rise as she says, “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!”
While on the phone, she eventually let go of her dog’s collar and reattached the leash, at which point Christian Cooper said, “Thank you,” and ended his video.
Cooper posted the incident to his Facebook page, and it was subsequently shared to Twitter by his sister, Melody Cooper, where it quickly racked up millions of views.
Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm
— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020
The exchange caused outrage on social media, with many noting comparisons between similar videos and incidents of white people calling police officers to falsely accuse African-Americans of threatening or illegal behavior.
The fallout for Amy Cooper was swift. The head of insurance investment solutions at Franklin Templeton was placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired by her employer, which issued a statement saying, “We have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”
She has also surrendered her dog to the shelter from which she adopted it, according to a Facebook post from Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue Inc.
In comments to CNN, Cooper said she wanted to “publicly apologize to everyone,” and said she is “not a racist,” adding, “I did not mean to harm that man in any way.”
Christian Cooper told CNN that if Cooper meant her apology and kept her dog leashed in future, “then we have no issues with each other.”
“I videotaped [the incident] because I thought it was important to document things,” Christian Cooper added. “Unfortunately we live in an era with things like Ahmaud Arbery, where black men are seen as targets. This woman thought she could exploit that to her advantage, and I wasn’t having it.”
While Cooper has gone viral for being the victim of a racist incident, he is notable in LGBTQ history for a number of reasons. Prior to his current role at Health Science Communications, Cooper was a writer and editor for Marvel Comics, where he made history by penning a character that later came out as gay.
Cooper created the character Yoshi Mishima for comic Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, who became the first openly gay Star Trek character in the franchise’s history. Cooper told TVGEN in 1998 that he had written Mishima as “gay all along,” prior to his coming out, “but I just never came right out and said it.”
In addition to making Trek history, Cooper also made Marvel history with the superhero Victoria Montesi, Marvel’s first openly lesbian lead character. Montesi debuted in 1992 in the comic Darkhold.
Cooper is also a notable LGBTQ activist, having served as co-chair of the board of directors of media advocacy organization GLAAD in the late ’80s.
He also created the New York-based political action committee (PAC) No More REPublicans Toying with Your Life (No More REPTYLs), which aimed to elect Democratic state senators to Republican-held seats to stop the GOP from roadblocking pro-LGBTQ legislation.
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