In the midst of a worldwide scourge, covid19, and America’s cities erupting in blazes and destruction, this story, in its own way, helped to set the stage for the violence that followed only days later. This is not that tragedy, the murder of an innocent black man, whose face haunts us all. This is the story of a young woman named Amy Cooper who was out with her dog in New York’s Central Park. This is a story that resonates with me since our eldest daughter is named Amy Cooper. And this is a story that resonates with me because hatred, baseless, unfounded hatred, sinat chinam, continues to take a heartbreaking toll on human life. For blacks. For other minority groups. And, of course, for us, the Jews.
I’ve never been happy with my name. Many people have a hard time spelling it and throughout my life people have had a hard time remembering it. When we were about to become parents, in 1963, we opted for a simple name.
And so, when our daughter number one was born, we chose to call her Amy. We hoped that this new girl would herself be extraordinary. Her name didn’t have to be! Not being of the generation where women kept their maiden names at marriage we assumed she would be known by her husband’s family name eventually. And so it was. She married an amazing guy named Mark Cooper, easy to spell and remember.
Amy Skopp met Mark Cooper at Camp Ramah in New England where they were both hardworking staff members. He was almost finished with rabbinical school and she had graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was working on an MA from Brandeis in Jewish Communal Studies. As I said in remarks at their Chanukah wedding, with a not so subtle reference to the Chanukiah that we would soon light together with the wedding guests, they were a match made in heaven. And our daughter became Amy Cooper, a name easy to spell and remember. She, herself, is extraordinary, but her name is not.
And then, a few short days ago, the name Amy Cooper became a headline on the world stage, was printed in every newspaper, and was a topic of discussion, internationally. Remember her. Amy Cooper. Of course you do.
Our daughter’s Facebook account was deluged by posts from friends around the world. They sort of knew she wasn’t that other Amy Cooper, but, well, the name’s the same. She even got a post from a journalist for a prominent magazine who wanted to write a piece on how this situation had affected her.
There was this story you see. And since it took place in Central Park in New York City and our Amy Cooper works and lives in the New York area, would it be so farfetched? Of course it would but not everyone knows our Amy the way I do.
The Amy Cooper in the story did something that wasn’t at all acceptable. It might even be considered criminal. It clearly was mean spirited and hateful. And, in the environment that we live in, it clearly signified racism! Our Amy Cooper is not a racist. Nor does she perform criminal acts.
Our Amy grew up in a home that always had a dog or two. None of our dogs, especially after we acquired Major who could have taught Houdini a thing about escaping, was never given free rein. They were always in a secure, fenced in yard, or in our home. None of them ever ever was allowed to roam. I was paranoid that I would see Laila or Toto or Gringo or Buttons, and especially Major, get lost or hit by a car. I never worried about any of them being stolen. These were adopted street mutts, mongrel each and every one, who knew their way around garbage cans, not dog shows, by the time we got them. They had each left their pedigrees behind many generations earlier and each thought they were in the Garden of Eden when they reached our home and hunkered down. Our couches and beds and leftover brisket satisfied their needs. They got fat and lazy and never wandered anywhere. And although the aforementioned Major had a yen to roam, his escapes were always thwarted.
When Amy and our other children were growing up we never, not ever, not once, let a dog out unleashed. And to do so in a public park, Central Park no less, was absolutely not even thinkable for a moment.
In Central Park, the day of the event, an Amy Cooper, one of the apparently numerous other Amy Coopers of this world, let her dog off the leash. Forbidden! An obvious illegal act. A birdwatcher, coincidentally also named Cooper, asked her to please leash the dog. And so the story was born. Amy called the police to report a crime, a threat! In fact, the only crime was her own. But never mind the facts. The man was black and that was enough to convince her that she had the right to press charges against an innocent man who she claimed was a danger to her.
Some may say that in these times of pandemic and riots, the story is a bit anemic. I don’t think so. In these ongoing days of death and destruction, when the United States has been brought to its knees, respect, love and tolerance for one another are what keeps us together. Let’s be kind!
Hopefully the courts will deal with Amy Cooper. For me, I’m still happy with the name we chose for our daughter, Amy Skopp Cooper. She wears that name with distinction.