SUBSCRIBE NOW
COLUMNS

Bozelko column: Arresting Amy Cooper won’t even things out

Chandra Bozelko
More Content Now
Plaquemine Post South

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

*****

On May 25, Memorial Day, Amy Cooper gave the world something to talk about besides COVID-19 when she called 911 to report “an African-American man threatening my life” from Manhattan’s Central Park when, as it appears from the recording of the incident, the African-American man, an unrelated Christian Cooper, was not threatening her and had asked her to leash her dog.

Because of what might be the most consequential dog-walk in history, Ms. Cooper had to surrender her rescue spaniel, Henry. She’s lost her job. The New York City Human Rights Commission opened an inquiry into her behavior. The Central Park South Civic Association called for her to be banned from Central Park, a symbolic move if there ever was one since no one guards entry to the public space. New York City Public Advocate Jumanne Williams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams want Cooper arrested, Adams asking to send “detectives to Amy’s house and put her in handcuffs.”

While the NYPD has said they won’t charge Ms. Cooper, pressure from all over the country might convince them otherwise.

From viewing the same video as 20 million other people, I think Cooper committed a crime and needs to be held accountable. But I diverge from the mob in thinking that arresting Amy Cooper is a good idea. Charging people like her won’t be a measure of racial justice.

I’ve always believed that the introduction of racial disparities into criminal justice discourse did as much disservice to the public’s understanding of crime and police as it expanded it.

Constantly including the term “racial disparities” into discussions of crime signals to white people that they’re less affected by this system.

That’s what people mean when they say: “Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing” as many pundits have. She believed the odds on her 911 call turning into a calamity were in her favor, not Christian Cooper’s.

Obviously, Ms. Cooper’s risk assessment was wrong.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, white offenders, as opposed to black offenders, had the highest average sentence among offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty (127 months or over 10 years) in federal courts. In fact, white women - women who would be classified alongside Amy Cooper in crime and corrections statistics - are the fastest-growing correctional population. The rate of growth of black women in prison is slowing.

To the uninitiated, this may seem like progress, but it’s not. The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that the more often white people are charged and sent to the slammer, sentences for everyone get lengthened.

As someone who’s been inside this system, I call this the “Sherman McCoy Syndrome” on the part of prosecutors. Bond trader Sherman McCoy was the protagonist in Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (it was also made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith).

The Sherman McCoy character is actually innocent - it was his mistress who was driving when his Mercedes struck a young black man - but his value in proving that the criminal justice system isn’t targeting people of color is too much for the district attorney to pass up. The prosecutor looks at “the usual job lots of blacks and Latins” and passionately pursues McCoy ... and ends up proving that one Sherman McCoy is worth several defendants of color.

I think I was a Sherman McCoy myself, sentenced to over seven years in prison for nonviolent crimes that I’ve contested. That, to me, is the most racist part of the system. To think that I could counteract the prosecution of two or three black women devalues their lives. This isn’t fairness. It’s arrogance that assumes that sins committed against populations of color can be corrected by adding more white to the mix. The key is to get the black out.

If you really wanted to use the Amy Cooper debacle for racial reckoning, the NYPD would leave Amy in her ignominy and reexamine 10 pending cases against black defendants and allow two of them serving time on Rikers to be released early. That way, the disaster odds on white women’s 911 calls become ever in their favor.

Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at outlawcolumn@gmail.com.