Currently on twitter, and maybe elsewhere, a video is circulating of a white woman named Amy Cooper. Cooper was walking her dog without a leash in the Ramble in Central Park, when a Black man named Christian Cooper approached her to ask her to leash her dog. At this point, according to Christian Cooper and his sister, who posted a video of the encounter, Amy Cooper almost immediately turned hostile. The video that Christian Cooper shot shows Amy Cooper threatening to call the police and to tell them that “an African American man” is threatening her life.
It is frightening, although not shocking, how quickly Amy Cooper summons a vulnerable tremor to her voice. Likewise her confidence that she can call the state apparatus’ violence to her service is terrifying but expected. All this has been written about more eloquently by other commentators.
I’ll just add a little historical and geographical perspective. The Ramble was created by Frederick Law Olmsted as his touch of “real” wilderness to a Central Park that he was constantly tweaking to make less “artificial”. It is located roughly 4 blocks south of the southern bound of Seneca Village, the first settlement of free Black New Yorkers on Manhattan.
Seneca Village, of course, was claimed by eminent domain and dynamited to make Central Park. The stones of the AME Zion church of Seneca Village, which was built in 1853, just 4 years before the evictions and razing, might be repurposed in the wall bordering the park around 82nd. No one knows for sure. Twice in the history of the Park, some graves have turned up. There’s a small plaque, put up in the 90s, after Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar’s book, The Park And the People “rediscovered” the history of the Village. That’s about it.
Amy Cooper, and all white Americans, including me, are allowed to forget what land they walk on, the people it belonged to or who belonged to the Land. They guard that ignorance with threats of violence, which the state, which exerts authority over the land and its people, is happy to back up. Memory and history are powerful tools that can make a deep contribution to justice, but ultimately, they are not enough. We must dismantle the systems that are built on these graves.