Will Charge in Central Park Incident Make People ‘Think Twice’ About False Police Reporting?

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Screenshot from original video by Christian Cooper via Facebook.

Legal experts say the charges filed against a woman for a false report following an incident in New York’s Central Park could make people “think twice” about deploying racial stereotypes.

Amy Cooper, a white woman who called 911 about “an African-American man” who was allegedly threatening her, was charged Monday with one count of filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year, the New York Times reports.

A video of the confrontation between her and a birdwatcher named Christian Cooper (no relation), was seen over 40 million times, and fueled outrage across the country. 

“People are rarely charged with filing a false police report because the authorities do not want to discourage the reporting of crimes and because it can be difficult to prove that a person made a false report knowingly,” the Times report said.

Experts say the case against Amy Cooper is strong.

“To the extent that this woman was arguably deploying racial stereotypes and weaponizing them, it will make people think twice,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor and a retired federal judge. 

“It is a big deal.” 

In a statement announcing the charge, Manhattan DA Cy Vance said, “We are strongly committed to holding perpetrators of this conduct accountable,” and added that if any other New Yorkers experienced a situation similar to what Christian Cooper, the false-report victim, went through, that they should call his office.  

Amy Cooper’s attorney, Robert Barnes, said she would fight the misdemeanor charge, according to the Associated Press. 

Amy Cooper’s arraignment is scheduled for October 14. If she is convicted on this misdemeanor, she could receive a conditional discharge or be sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time. 

“I’m calling the cops!”

The May 25 incident was filmed by Christian Cooper. In the one minute and ten-second video, Amy Cooper is seen reacting with great fear after Christian Cooper asked her to put a leash on her dog in an area in Central Park, The Crime Report detailed.  

Amy Cooper’s response was to then call the police, saying, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

She then called 911, and in a voice that seems strained and out of breath, said, “Please send the cops immediately!”

Christian Cooper ended the video after Amy Cooper had been on the phone for about 40 seconds by simply saying, “Thank you.”

By the time the NYPD arrived, both parties had left, and no arrests or summons were issued that day, CNN detailed.

See Also: Viral Central Park Video Shows Racially Charged Confrontation

New Legislation

False reporting cases have not been frequently studied, making this type of hate crime sometimes difficult to understand. 

FBI data shows that in 2017 there were 7,175 hate crimes reported. Of those, The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino released a follow-up report noting that they found only 17 false hate crime reports in 2017 and “six others that they deemed to be unclear whether they were true or false,” ABC News detailed in 2019.

However frequent or infrequent that data may say false 911 calls take place, many lawmakers are taking a stand against this form of hate and aggression. 

Four states — New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington — have all considered bills that would criminalize calling the police when crimes have not occurred, some specifying calls that “unlawfully discriminate” or target “protected classes,” The Crime Report detailed.

Both Oregon and Washington have passed their laws, whereas Oregon’s took effect on the first of January, and Washington’s took effect on June 11. 

New York State lawmakers introduced a bill in 2018 that would increase the criminal punishment of making a false emergency call based on race — comparing it to the likes of a hate crime —, and it’s started to gain more momentum following Cooper’s viral video. 

Under this bill, a violator could potentially face one-to-five years in prison.

Governor Andrew Cuomo called the bill one of the four “cornerstones of a real reform”  and he said he hopes to see it pass, People reported.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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