Charges Dropped Against Amy Cooper

Resolution to the case involving the Black birdwatcher in Central Park leaves racial justice advocates dissatisfied

| 19 Feb 2021 | 11:37

Misdemeanor charges were dropped this week against Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park back in May, after she completed therapy sessions as part of what prosecutors described as a restorative justice program.

At the prosecution’s request, a judge dismissed the single count of filing a false police report against Cooper, who attempted to have Christian Cooper arrested when he asked her to leash her dog in the park’s Ramble.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the court Amy Cooper, 41, had “learned a lot” in the therapy sessions, which included education on racial bias.

The resolution, however, left many criminal justice reformers and racial justice advocates dissatisfied, arguing that the leniency shown to Cooper is not regularly given to people of color, and thus a result of a broken system.

Cooper’s lawyer, Robert Barnes, was pleased with the outcome.

“After a thorough & honest inquiry, the New York’s DA’s office dismissed all charges today. Others rushed to the wrong conclusion based on inadequate investigation & they may yet face legal consequences,” Barnes said in a tweet, suggesting that lawsuits brought on Cooper’s behalf could be pending.

When asked for clarity, a spokesperson for Barnes did not elaborate on possible litigation, but told the Daily News that Cooper’s story would be told “in coming days.”

Christian Cooper, whose video recording of his encounter with Amy Cooper had gone viral on social media, did not cooperate with prosecutors in the case, and in a statement to media, said there are more pressing issues that deserve attention.

“I am far more outraged by the U.S. Congress, which continues to deny the mostly Black and brown people of the District of Columbia statehood, and the representation every American deserves, than by anything Amy Cooper did,” said Cooper. “That gross racial injustice could be fixed by Congress now, today, and that is what people should be focused on, not last year’s events in Central Park.”

Restorative Justice

On Twitter, the dismissal of Amy Cooper’s charges started to trend, and advocates for restorative justice in general voiced their frustration on it being a remedy for Cooper.

“Conflicted,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a tweet. “I’m glad that a restorative justice approach was taken, and that there has been at least some measure of accountability. But Amy Cooper’s actions are not isolated, they’re part of a system of inequity & perpetuating trauma. Can’t dismiss that. #ImNotOk #StillNotOk”

“Well. I am trying to believe in restorative justice but it sure is something that it is benefiting someone like Amy Cooper first,” author Roxane Gay said in a tweet. “We will see if she learned anything.”

Public defender and candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, Eliza Orlins, pointed to the dismissal as an example of an unjust system.

“This isn’t surprising,” Orlins tweeted. “This is how the system was designed to function — to protect the privileged from accountability.”

Greer Ellis, who facilitates weekly restorative justice workshops for Columbia University’s Center for Justice, felt that restorative justice was not actually utilized in Cooper’s case at all.

“Restorative Justice is in part about meeting the needs of people who have been harmed. It looks at the root causes and effects of why people make the choices they do, so that different choices can be made in the future. I don’t believe that was done,” Ellis told Our Town via email. “Additionally, it involves the acknowledgement that harm was caused, the impact of the harm, a sincere apology and show of remorse, repair of the harm and to no longer commit similar harm. None of which I am aware was done. In my opinion, Restorative Justice was not used in this matter.”

Ellis too was vexed that a person such as Cooper could benefit from alternatives to jail time when people of color generally do not.

“What is clear to me in this case is the privilege that is afforded to white people that excuse them from their racist behavior without accountability,” said Ellis. “That is what should be discussed, along with the disparity and double standard in the criminal legal system that treats people of color exponentially more harshly than white people.”

“Restorative Justice is in part about meeting the needs of people who have been harmed ... I don’t believe that was done.” Greer Ellis, Columbia University’s Center for Justice