Chris Cooper Is My Brother. Here's Why I Posted His Video.
We grew up in a family of activists. I wanted everyone to see his calm bravery.
I grew up in a family of activists and my parents were teachers. They raised me and my brother, Chris, to never shy from fighting injustice. From police brutality, to the war in Iraq, to climate change, we've lifted our voices in protest. So when I saw Chris's video of his recent encounter with a white woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) in New York's Central Park, it was surreal that he had captured on his cellphone the kind of racism we had always railed against. All of a sudden, I became one of the hundreds of black women who have watched a video of a loved one being accosted.
Fortunately for Chris, the situation remained verbal. For far too many black families, the result has been fatal; I do not watch those videos. I consider them an extended form of terrorism against the black community. I refuse to subject myself to the psychic, spiritual and emotional pain of watching them. With my brother, I got to see a black man survive what could have become a deadly situation. That was a relief and a cause for celebration for millions of people.
But as I replayed the video several times, I felt more and more uneasy and angry, until an overwhelming fear swept over me. My mind conjured up rapid images of police officers arriving and shooting first, or throwing Chris down and then beating and choking him. Mybrother. When I posted the video on Twitter, I didn't yet know about George Floyd, whose killing last Monday by a police officer has prompted protests across the country, but I knew about Emmett Till. I knew I wanted to make sure that Amy Cooper would not have the chance to weaponize her racism against anyone else. She could have gotten my brother hurt or killed. I wanted my brother's calm bravery, in the face of a threatening and cowardly act, to be seen. I wanted to shine a light not just on one person, but on the systemic problem of deep racism in this country that encourages her kind of behavior.
Racism affects all black people — men, women, boys, girls, gay, straight, nonbinary — no matter their state of employment or where or if they went to college. I have no doubt that if the police had showed up in the Ramble, a wooded area of the park where Chris had gone bird watching, my brother's Ivy League degree and impressive résumé would not have protected him. Yet the Good Negro narrative has long allowed white people to feel comfortable speaking out against the mistreatment of particular black people: "He is just like us." "She is a good one." Every black person subjected to this kind of hatred needs recognition, justice and support.
I asked my brother for permission to post the video on Twitter, and I didn't expect more than 100 responses since it was Memorial Day. I was shocked it struck such a chord. The post has now garnered more than 40 million views and hundreds of thousands of likes from all over the world. In the responses, I saw anger and calls for social action, as well as expressions of joy that my brother had not been harmed, at least not physically.
When I've checked in with him over the past few days as we've fielded interviews and messages, I've asked "Are you, OK? How are you feeling?" Because even though he walked away, and even though I'm relieved, there still has been a toll. We felt it even before the incident with Amy Cooper. Every time we walk out of our door, we have cause to worry. My brother worries when he sneaks through the trees to catch a glimpse of a beautiful warbler. I worry when I check in late to an Airbnb, and every time my son gets in the car. Others wonder if a trip to the corner store or gas station might result in a phone call that will end their lives. So many of us in cities and towns across America are done with having to wonder if we'll be put at risk by our mere existence.
While my brother and I condemn the death threats that have been made against Amy Cooper, demanding some form of accountability is one of the few ways we can create a deterrent that can lead to real change.
We live in a country where a white person breaking rules feels confident and comfortable calling the police to threaten a black person doing nothing wrong. This has to stop, whether through more discussion to raise awareness of the issue, or better enforcement of laws against false 911 reports.
Lots of people keep asking me what they can do. We all have a chance to step off the sidelines, to speak up, to take action and to shine a blinding light on the racism lurking in so many corners of our society. We need to fight together wisely, boldly and unflinchingly, while staying aware that our passion and actions can and will be used against us. But we must not stop. This is the time. It will not be easy. It will often be messy, but it must be done.
If you're an ally, what can you do? Stand with us. Bear witness. Continue the discussion and support legal action. Refuse to accept racism in your midst, even in small ways — call out a cruel joke or rude behavior. Be brave and challenge it all. You can transform your own world through how you teach your children, and how you speak to your neighbors and co-workers. It is up to you, not to a leader nor any single protest or petition. Your everyday commitment is what will start to bring the change you want to see. Start small, step forward and let your action join with others' to become a rising tide that cannot be stopped.
I have early memories of my dad's booming voice singing protest songs while he was on a march and pushing me in a stroller. Decades later, Chris and I were on an anti-stop-and-frisk march in Manhattan with our dad, Francis Cooper, who was then in his 70s. He and Chris were arrested for peacefully demonstrating. As my brother tells it, in the jail cell with dozens of other black men, my dad's beautiful tenor powerfully led them in a protest song that rang out through the jail.
My parents both passed away recently, and I am devoted to carrying on their inspirational legacy with my own children. Through social media, in my writing and filmmaking, and at protests, I will continue to push for justice for people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as those whose ordeals have yet to be told.
By Melody Cooper
Ms. Cooper is a playwright and a film, TV and comic book writer. She is the sister of Christian Cooper, New York Times, May 31, 2020.
May 31, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. Black people live with the threat of racial violence, sometimes delivered by the police. Chris Cooper didn't die when he went to the Park to birdwatch, but he might have- if the police had come. Think about that. #SystemicRacismInAmerica #PoliceViolence #EndRacismNow