The underlying assumptions

There are people, average like us and quietly going about life, that have moved to the national spotlight. We now know their names: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Trayvon Martin – and these are just the recent ones that made national news. The nation is moved in outrage. Yes, all lives matter, but Black Lives Matter. As someone  pointed out: all houses on the block matter, but when one of them is on fire, it matters more.

Do you recognize the name Christian Cooper? He is a young black man — a birdwatcher — who was reported to the police May 25 by a young white woman, who called 911 to say that “an African American man” was threatening her in New York’s Central Park merely because he asked her to comply with the park’s posted regulations to leash her dog.

Fr. Brian Massingale’s recent article raises questions about what happened in Central Park – raises questions that each one of us should ask of ourselves.

Here is what is reported to happen. After a black man tells the woman to obey the posted signs, she responds that she’s going to call the police “and I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American man threatening my life.” Then she does just that, calling 911 and saying, “There’s a man, an African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog. I’m being threatened by a man…Please send the cops immediately!”  Fr. Brian sums it up: “In short, she decided to call the police on a black man for nothing more than politely asking her to obey the park’s rules. And made up a lie to put him in danger.”

That’s what she was doing. What was Christian Cooper doing? He was recording the whole incident on his cell phone. Would it have occurred to you pull out your cell phone and record the events playing out. It would not have crossed my mind. But Mr. Cooper did. It not only crossed his mind, but I would infer he instinctively knew one possible way in which the events would unfold. He knew he was about to be drawn into the dynamic of white privilege.

Fr. Brian wrote: “She knew what she was doing…Why did she act as she did?”  He then offered some possible insight into the mind of the woman (the following quoted from his article).

  • She assumed that her lies would be more credible than his truth.
  • She assumed that she would have the presumption of innocence.
  • She assumed that he, the black man, would have a presumption of guilt.
  • She assumed that the police would back her up.
  • She assumed that her race would be an advantage, that she would be believed because she is white. (By the way, this is what we mean by white privilege).
  • She assumed that his race would be a burden, even an insurmountable one.
  • She assumed that the world should work for her and against him.
  • She assumed that she had the upper hand in this situation.
  • She assumed that she could exploit deeply ingrained white fears of black men.
  • She assumed that she could use these deeply ingrained white fears to keep a black man in his place.
  • She assumed that if he protested his innocence against her, he would be seen as “playing the race card.”
  • She assumed that no one would accuse her of “playing the race card,” because no one accuses white people of playing the race card when using race to their advantage.
  • She assumed that he knew that any confrontation with the police would not go well for him.
  • She assumed that the frame of “black rapist” vs. “white damsel in distress” would be clearly understood by everyone: the police, the press and the public.
  • She assumed that the racial formation of white people would work in her favor.
  • She assumed that her knowledge of how white people view the world, and especially black men, would help her.
  • She assumed that a black man had no right to tell her what to do.
  • She assumed that the police officers would agree.
  • She assumed that even if the police made no arrest, that a lot of white people would take her side and believe her anyway.
  • She assumed that Christian Cooper could and would understand all of the above.

“And she was right. He clearly knew what was at stake, which is why he had the presence of mind to record what happened”

Her name is Amy Cooper (ironically the same last name – no relationship).

We should remember, honor and mourn for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin and more.

We must remember the name Amy Cooper. It is name that asks us about ourselves.

You can read the full article by Fr. Bryan online here. I’ve only offered the barest of entree into his analysis. The article is worth your time and consideration. It can be the start of an response to the question: “what can I do?”



2 thoughts on “The underlying assumptions

  1. Thank you for this article. Assumptions can destroy lives! And, what is really telling of our society is this: If someone is accused of a crime and he/she is found out that he/she is innocent, it would never receive the same media coverage as the original cry of that person’s guilt. And, unfortunately, at times, the person is never seen again in the same way as before the outcry of guilt from the accuser. The blemish of presumed guilt instead of presumed innocence lingers, sometimes for their entire lives. Always hovering over the person and condemning them over and over again for a crime that never occurred, except in the eyes of the accuser. JMHO, of course.

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