The Hazards of Birdwatching While Black

Author: Sue C. | Category: Environment & Nature | Human Interest | Date: 05-28-2020


                The Hazards of Birdwatching While Black

In case you haven’t heard it though the internet grapevine yet--a black man, an avid birdwatcher in New York City--was reported to the police by a white woman who dialed  911 to report “an African American threatening my life.” Why did she do that?  Because he told her she should follow the rules and keep her dog on a leash.

The man, Christian Cooper, a member of NYC’s Audubon Board of Directors, was bird watching in Central Park in an area called the Ramble where dogs are required to be leashed.  

He noticed that a woman was with an unleashed dog that was running around.  He pointed to the sign and told her that her dog should be on a leash. The woman, Amy Cooper (not related to Christian), responded that dogs need the exercise because dog runs are closed, to which Christian suggested that she take him outside the Ramble area.

She objected vehemently, and when Christian took out some dog treats in an attempt to defuse the situation and encourage cooperation, she grabbed her dog and started dragging the animal.  At this point, Christian started filming, and was quite far away from her.  He was also telling her not to come closer.

She became more and more upset and pulled out her phone to call 911.  One phrase that she was heard saying to the police was: “… there's an African-American man, I'm in Central Park, and he's recording me and threatening myself and my dog!"  At this point, the woman's dog is still struggling as she continues to drag him by his collar.

When she finally leashed the dog, Christian thanked her and stopped filming.

Later, in a news broadcast, Christian explains why it is important to leash animals in parks:  He said, "If the habitat is destroyed we won’t be able to go there to see the birds, to enjoy the plantings."

In the same newscast, he explains why he filmed the incident:
“I'm not going to participate in my own dehumanization. I'm not going to feed into this. 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.”

My heart goes out to Christian and to everyone who has been a target of such instinctive racist behavior.  As someone who lived in New York City for many years, I have to point out that I, and many of my friends, have encountered more acts of kindness from people of color than we can count.

We should all try hard to treat people as individuals, not as representatives of stereotyped groups.  

The fact that this incident has turned into a condemnation of racism is a very good thing.  

It’s also a good thing that Christian is a passionate birdwatcher and took the opportunity to speak up for birds and the importance of habitat protection.

It’s no less than a triple win—for our common humanity, for birds, and for ecosystems.      

Read more about this story.



Zoe Byun June 4, 2020 4:46 am
I had not heard about this incident until after reading this article. It pains me to hear that people are still judging people by the color of their skin in 2020. Christian Cooper was very smart to record the incident and show that Amy Cooper was being overly dramatic. Racism has definitely been ... Read more normalized in America, which makes me so disgusted and upset. We need to bring change and stop these discriminatory acts Less
Victor Wan June 4, 2020 2:23 am
Examples of racism like this one are so widespread throughout the US, especially those that involve African American people and false accusations associated with them. I find it terrible that others threaten African Americans for being the minority and assumed to be harmful, while in most cases ... Read more these African Americans are just informing the lawbreakers to follow protocol. This vivid example between Christian and a white woman justifies how we live in a society where racism towards other groups is evident Less
Tommy Zeng June 3, 2020 11:28 am
As someone who has not been directly confronted with racist behavior(only slight hints of racism), I've had trouble truly empathizing with those who have been. I have read and heard many stories about racism, and hope that it will go away soon. The issue, however, is that it is rooted within ... Read more many communities that are perfectly fine with being racist. Not everyone desires change, and many are proud to be racist. Every time I hear a story about someone taking a civilized approach in order to confront racism, I know that we are one step closer to fixing the issue. Less
Tina Zeng June 3, 2020 7:07 am
It's truly for the best that incidents such as this—as well as with George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, and others—were filmed. It may make our blood boil, but these videos have reignited movements like Black Lives Matter. I saw a quote online that I believe we should always keep in our minds: ... Read more racism isn't getting worse. It's just getting recorded. Less
Jake Kim June 3, 2020 6:07 am
Although I heard a lot about this story through social media, I wasn't aware of the backstory of Christian Cooper at all. I think he did a really good job bringing the best out of the situation, as he could have used this opportunity to escalate the growing racial tensions in this country. I ... Read more admire the fact that Christian was able to bring attention to racial and environmental flaws in our society. These problems are all very serious in their own ways, and it is embarrassing that people have only begun to fight for them now that they are devastating our lives. Though this is better than no action, I think it is important for people to aim to act before problems reach a climax in the future Less
Leo Lin June 3, 2020 3:59 am
While these situation may not be common, I was very surprised at Amy Cooper's reaction to Christian when he gave her a polite tip. Her reaction seems very server and dramatic as it is just a simple action. It also shows that despite the numerous actions to made everybody equal, people are ... Read more still believe in the stereotypes of race. I find this unaccpatable because it forces them to believe that everyone of a certain race acts this way based on only a few who actually acts this way. Overall, despite actions taken to make everyone see each other as equal, racism still persist to this day Less
Kylee Kim June 3, 2020 2:33 am
Reading about this situation in its entirety for the first time, I can say I wasn't completely shocked by the behavior of the woman who didn't leash her dog. We live in a time where stuff like this happens all too often. Living in the time of people like Ahmaud Aubery and George Floyd, ... Read more it's apparent that insensitive racism occurs in our nation hundreds to thousands of times every day. While it isn't until recently that it's become a popular discussion, this issue has been in existence for far too long. While I myself am a part of the "model minority" of Asian-Americans, I have had zero experience living with such racism. Being an American citizen means that I should have rights and be respected, just like any other American, whether they be white, black, or Asian like myself. The way this woman responded to a polite favor by Cooper to help the environment and protect the place he loved was completely unacceptable. Just because of his skin color, she made the decision to judge him unnecessarily and unjustly. Less
Ryan Yang June 3, 2020 2:00 am
Although this is not the first time I have read about this situation, I was repeatedly hit with a feeling of disbelief and disgust as a response to Amy Cooper's behavior towards Christian Cooper. It is really painful and frustrating to see African-Americans being discriminated in this way. Of ... Read more course, with the recent death of George Floyd, riots and protests have arisen all around the country. It is completely unacceptable that we Americans are mistreating each other like this, and I can really see the importance of such protests. I, however, do not condone the much violence that has arisen from the riots as it does not respect the African-Americans who were victims of social injustice. Such instances like looting and vandalism are being used for personal gain, and to take advantage of the mistreatment of the Black community in such a manner is truly unacceptable and will solve nothing in our nation's issue of racism. Furthermore, I was strongly attached to the statement, "We should all try hard to treat people as individuals." This is a clear reminder that we are all one people. However, it is clear that we Americans are not living this truth out. We see discrimination and division among the American people every day. As the article mentions, we need to see the beauties of each and every individual, and to do so, we need to be overflowing in love for our brothers and sisters in this nation and on this earth Less
Sue C. June 3, 2020 10:26 am
Powerful statements, Ryan. Thank you.