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Calling the Cops: A Threat or a Plea?

On Memorial Day morning of 2020, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in The Ramble at Central Park Zoo when he saw a dog off its leash. He asked the dog’s owner, Amy Cooper (no relation) to leash her dog as per the rules of this specific area of the park. Infuriated by this request, Amy Cooper threatened to call the police. In a video recorded by Christian Cooper, she can be heard warning “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Amy Cooper calling the police. (Source: @melodycooper on Twitter)

Later into the exchange, she calls the police and explains again that “there’s a man — African-American, he has a bike helmet — he is recording me and threatening me,” again emphasizing Christian Cooper’s race before shrieking dramatically that she was being threatened. When Christian Cooper’s sister shared this video on Twitter, it instantly drew attention to how Amy Cooper was able to weaponize the systemic injustices in the criminal legal system; knowing that her threat to call the cops could possibly be a lethal one.

Furthermore, the interaction reflects how easily white women in particular can leverage the weight of the criminal system against Black people and particularly Black men. Amy Cooper’s repeated identification of Christian Cooper as a Black man to the police was no coincidence but rather the perpetuation of the stereotype that Black men are threatening (one that served her purpose in this situation). When NYPD officers responded to the call, neither Amy Cooper nor Christian Cooper were there, and that no arrests or summons were made. A misdemeanor charge against Cooper for the false 911 report has since been dropped by the DA’s office.

On the other hand there’s the case of Jennifer McLeggan, a registered nurse and single mother, who worked around the clock to be able to buy a home. Then she finally bought her dream house in Valley Stream, a Long Island suburb that is 27.6 percent Black. McLeggan, who is Black, was attracted to the town's diversity, and she looked forward to raising her daughter in a home with a backyard.

But from the time she moved in in 2017, she said, she was racially harassed by next-door neighbors who she said threw feces and dead squirrels in her yard. McLeggan gained national attention after she hung a handwritten sign several feet long on her front door detailing the allegations against her neighbors, who are white, and posted home surveillance video on social media corroborating some of her claims.

The handwritten sign on McLeggan's door. (Source: Janelle Griffith for NBC News)

McLeggan said the harassment started when she moved into the home in 2017 when litter, feces and dead squirrels were thrown on her property, and it escalated to racist threats. She was told to go back where she came from, which she interpreted to be racist.

McLeggan said that in the summer of 2019, she called the police after she heard loud popping noises, which had become a regular occurrence. However, she would later learn that this was a pellet gun from her neighbor’s backyard onto her property. She said that she believed the gun was a long rifle and that she feared for her safety and that of her 2-year-old daughter, Immaculate. She said they didn't use their yard for months. McLeggan said that when she told all this to a responding officer, she was instructed to stop calling 911 and to try to get along with the neighbors because they had lived in the neighborhood for decades. Finally, when her story garnered national attention the police took action and charged her neighbors - three years after her the harassment began. Clearly, calling the cops can have vastly different results depending on who you are.

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