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"That act was unmistakably racist": Christian Cooper speaks out after viral encounter with white dog-walker

Birdwatcher on being racially targeted
Birdwatcher on being racially targeted 04:22

Christian Cooper and his sister Melody have been marching against injustice since before they were old enough to walk. But they never imagined how cellphone video of a tense encounter would sweep them up in a national crisis. 

Christian, a 57-year-old, Harvard-educated science editor, was bird watching in a wooded area of New York's Central Park called the Ramble, when he encountered a woman whose dog was running loose.

"I said, 'Excuse me, ma'am, but dogs in the Ramble have to be on the leash at all times'... And she said, 'Well, the dog runs are closed.'" 

"What made you pull out the phone and start recording it?" asked "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King. 

"Well, that's a little bit of the irony, it had nothing to do with race," Christian replied. "It was just a conflict between a dog-walker and a birder."

When Christian asked the woman, coincidentally named Amy Cooper, not to come close to him, she threatened to call the cops. When he encouraged her to do so, she responded, "I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life."

"She basically … pulled the pin on the race grenade and tried to lob it at me," Christian told King.

"She says though at one point that you said to her, 'Look, if you're gonna do what you want, I'm gonna do what I want, and you're not going to like it,'" King said.

"That's absolutely true," Christian responded, adding that he only planned to offer a treat to the dog to get the owner to leash it.  He said it was an old birdwatcher's trick that dog owners tend to resent.

"At the point that she makes that phone call, it's very clear that, you know, there is no physical threat to her at all," Christian said. "It's the iPhone and the dog treats."

He added that the woman knew exactly what to say to get police to respond. In the video, the woman can be heard saying, "There is an African American man, I am in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog."

"She was going to tap into a deep, deep dark vein of racism, of racial bias that runs through this country … and has for centuries," he said.

By the time police arrived, Christian and Amy were both gone. Melody, a writer, was stunned and put the video on Twitter.

"All I could think of was the police arriving and throwing him to the ground and putting him in a chokehold," she said.

"Why did you think we all needed to see what had happened to your brother?" King asked.

"I had seen videos like this before," Melody said. "I'm through with it. I'm through with the ... weaponization of white women's tears... And there's a history of it from Emmett Till, which we all know."

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old savagely murdered in Mississippi back in 1955 after he whistled at a white woman. But she testified in court that he grabbed her and made sexual advances. There's a history of white women falsely accusing black men.

"It hit home, it struck a chord for me to see my own brother put through that," Melody said.

Decades after Till's murder, Christian and Melody said many black people in America still tiptoe through daily life.

"There's a reason why I've never worn contact lenses," Christian said. 

"What do you mean?" King asked.

"Because people react differently to a black man who wears little round nerdy eyeglasses than to one who doesn't," he responded.

Amy Cooper was fired from her financial services job. She released a written apology to Christian, which reads in part, "I hope that a few mortifying seconds in a lifetime of forty years will not define me in his eyes."

"I don't know whether she's a racist or not," Christian said. "I don't know her life. I don't know how she lives it. That act was unmistakably racist even if she didn't realize it in the moment."

"I'm not sure someone's life should be defined by 60 seconds of poor judgment," he added.

Melody disagreed. "I think he is very much taking the higher road," she said. "His point of view is a little bit different than mine."

Either way, Melody said she believes defeating racism in America requires everyone to play a part.

"If you're in the office and you hear someone making a racist comment, call it out," she said.

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