The True Story Behind Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper's Central Park Birdwatching Incident

In May 2020, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park, when pedestrian Amy Cooper called the police on him for asking her to leash her dog. Here's what happened next

<p>Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic/Youtube; Facebook</p>

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic/Youtube; Facebook

A verbal dispute over an unleashed dog went viral in spring 2020, prompting a discussion way bigger than the one that went down in New York City's Central Park that day.

On May 25, a clip captured in a section of the famed park known as "The Ramble" generated attention on Twitter. In it, a White woman called the cops after a Black birdwatcher asked her to leash her dog, per park regulations.

Christian Cooper was the man who calmly requested that the woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), leash her dog. However, when she declined to abide by the park rules, he began to record her reaction.

Immediately, Amy threatened to call the cops, which she ultimately did. While Amy dialed 911, she said, "I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life." Christian filmed the entire encounter, which his sister uploaded to Twitter soon after.

The video went viral on the platform, garnering over 40 million views. It set off a painful discourse about the history of dangerous false accusations against Black people made to police.

Related: Christian Cooper Pens Graphic Novel About Racism Partly Inspired by Amy Cooper in Central Park

Amy later apologized, and was fired from her job (the company released a statement saying "we do not condone racism of any kind"). Christian told CNN he began videotaping the encounter "because I thought it was important to document things."

"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," he said. Only a few hours after Christian's incident in Central Park, George Floyd would be killed in Minneapolis that same day.

"The two Memorial Day incidents captured on video two facets of entrenched racism Black people experience: one the horrors of police brutality, the other the routine humiliations and threats in daily life," wrote the New York Times.

Here's everything to know about the birdwatching incident that went down in Central Park.

Who is Christian Cooper?

<p>Jon Kroll/National Geographic</p>

Jon Kroll/National Geographic

Christian Cooper is a New York-based science writer and editor, board member of the New York Audubon Society and Harvard University class of '84 alum. He was also the first openly gay writer and editor for Marvel Comics, best known for introducing the first gay male character in the Star Trek universe, Yoshi Mishima.

Though his work was widely public, it wasn't until May 25, 2020 that the Long Island native found himself the center of headlines relating to his other passion: birdwatching.

In addition to his acclaimed work as a published author, Christian is highly regarded for his lifelong affinity of birdwatching, a hobby he fell in love with after he built a bird feeder and placed it in his Nassau County, New York, backyard when he was 9 or 10 years old.

"I got fascinated with the birds that were coming to the feeder. Particularly a red-winged blackbird. I saw this black bird with red on its wings. I'm like, 'I discovered a new species of crow,' " he recalled while promoting his upcoming National Geographic show on birdwatching.

Christian's hobby took him around the world, but one of his main birdwatching spots was in Central Park (where he found the community "very welcoming"). It was not until his encounter with Amy Cooper that he had a negative experience there.

Related: Christian Cooper — Birder Falsely Accused in Central Park — Wants Everyone to Access &#39;Healing&#39; Power of Birds (Exclusive)

Who is Amy Cooper?

Christian Cooper/Facebook
Christian Cooper/Facebook

Amy Cooper is a New York resident from Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood who is unrelated to Christian. She worked as an insurance portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton Investments, an asset management firm.

Amy was walking Henry, her adopted cocker spaniel from Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Inc., for whom she had an Instagram account dedicated to his exploits.

She had previously experienced the media spotlight several years prior, when she filed a lawsuit against a Wall Street trader that she claimed was a former lover who had bilked her out of $65,000 by claiming he needed it to leave his pregnant girlfriend.

What happened between Christian and Amy in Central Park?

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

On May 25, 2020 a video captured in the part of Central Park generated attention on Twitter, which portrayed a white woman calling the cops after another park-goer asked her to leash her dog, according to park regulations.

Christian had been birdwatching before 8:00 a.m. that day, and was interrupted during the quiet pursuit by Amy loudly calling after her dog, he told the New York Times, which prompted him to ask her to leash Henry. She refused.

In the clip, Christian was heard responding calmly to an agitated Amy, who threatened him with calling the police. "I'm going to tell them there's an African-American man threatening my life," she said, as she dialed 911.

While she spoke to the New York City Police Department, her dog appeared to struggle to put its feet on the ground as she held him by the collar. "Please send the cops immediately," Amy said on the phone, standing a distance away from Christian.

The video shows that before and during the 911 call, Amy referred to Christian as “African-American” three times. Christian's sister later uploaded the clip to Twitter, where it has been viewed more than 40 million times prior to being deleted.

<p>Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic/Youtube; Facebook</p>

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic/Youtube; Facebook

Related: N.Y.C. White Woman Apologizes After Calling Cops on Black Man Who Asked Her to Leash Her Dog

Christian told CNN the next day that he began videotaping the encounter "because I thought it was important to document things ... 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," Christian added of his encounter with Amy. He said that he specifically chose a part of Central Park where dogs were required to be leashed to aid in his bird watching, which is why he asked her to abide by the rules.

"That's important to us birders because we know that dogs won't be off-leash at all and we can go there to see the ground-dwelling birds," he said. "People spend a lot of money and time planting in those areas as well. Nothing grows in a dog run for a reason."

Speaking with Good Morning America that same day, Christian said during the situation — before he began recording — he tried to offer the unleashed dog a treat to prevent it from roaming.

"[Owners] don't like it when you feed their dog treats," he said. "And she didn't like that at all. She immediately grabbed the dog, as you can see from the video, and started hauling it around by its collar."

What happened to Amy Cooper?

The NYPD told USA Today that officers were called to the area and determined that the pair had engaged in a "verbal dispute." No arrests were made or summonses issued.

However, Amy was met with other repercussions in the wake of the incident. Franklin Templeton Investments, the asset management firm that employed Amy, announced its decision to "terminate" her the day after the clip went viral.

"Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately," the firm wrote on Twitter. "We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton."

Related: Woman Fired After Calling Police on Black Man Who Asked Her to Leash Her Dog

Ahead of her firing, Amy spoke to WNBC in an attempt to apologize for her actions.

"It was unacceptable. And you know words are just words and I can't undo what I did," she said. "But I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone. Especially to that man, his family."

"When I think about the police, I’m such a blessed person," Amy continued. "I think of [the police] as a protection agency, and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there are so many people in this country that don’t have that luxury."

On Facebook, the shelter Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Inc. said at the time that Amy adopted the dog "a few years ago," and after concerns about her treatment of Henry surfaced due to the video, she "voluntarily surrendered the dog in question to our rescue while this matter is being addressed." (The dog was returned to her after a veterinarian's evaluation.)

Amy later sued Franklin Templeton in May 2021 after the firm fired her over her viral Central Park incident, claiming the company engaged in race and gender discrimination in terminating her days after she called 911 on Christian. She lost the suit.

In June 2023, a U.S. appeals court refused to reinstate a lawsuit by Amy. "In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Cooper did not prove that Franklin Templeton illegally dismissed her on the basis of race or defamed her by branding her a racist," Reuters reported on June 8.

Where is Christian Cooper now?

<p>Jon Kroll/National Geographic</p>

Jon Kroll/National Geographic

Three years after being falsely accused by Amy in New York City's Central Park, Christian has turned his unexpected spotlight back on what brought him to Central Park in the first place: birdwatching.

In addition to his duties as vice president at the N.Y.C. Audubon Society, Christian is set to host a new National Geographic show, Extraordinary Birder, premiering on Nat Geo WILD on June 17 and Disney+ on June 21.

Christian, who also served as a consulting producer on the show, takes viewers around the world to marvel at some of Earth's most splendid birds and what they give to our planet. "Wild birds connect you to the natural world, and they remind you that we are part of this whole process too," Cooper said of what he wants animal lovers to take away from the show.

Along with the show, Christian is working to bring more people to the birding world with his upcoming book Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World, out June 13 through Penguin Random House.

"In what ways has it not made my life better?" Coopers told PEOPLE of the title's inspiration. "It makes me feel connected to the world around me." He is also fostering new birders through Feathered Friends, an afterschool program he started through the New York City Audubon.

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