The prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, said Ms. Cooper had participated in five therapy sessions that focused in part on how racial identities shape people’s lives. Her therapist had reported that the sessions were “a moving experience” and that Ms. Cooper “learned a lot,” Ms. Illuzzi-Orbon said.
If the name of the ADA rings a bell, that’s because she tried the Harvey Weinstein case. She’s been in the office for 27 years, and yet here she is, handling a misdemeanor prosecution that would ordinarily be farmed out to a rookie for practice. But this was no throw-away case, because the prosecution of Amy Cooper for her calling police when confronted by Christian Cooper in Central Park after he complained because her dog was off its leash went viral.
She was a “Karen,” falsely telling police that she was being threatened by a black man. She lost her job. She lost her dog. She became a national pariah. On top of everything else, she was one of the first Karens to face prosecution, even though Christian Cooper said he didn’t want her prosecuted and wouldn’t cooperate.
This was the perfect storm for Amy Cooper. Had Christian been a white man, her feelings of being threatened might well have made her a national hero, a woman threatened by toxic masculinity for doing something so banal, even adorable, as letting her dog run free. But he wasn’t a white man, and the victim calculator ended up with her being the villain by the curious presumption of any call to cops about a black man had a 97% likelihood of the cops showing up with guns blazing.
That didn’t happen, of course, and the cops handled the call properly. It rarely happens, and by rarely, it’s almost never, but that’s not what the hive mind believes. Not that Amy was right to call, or even worse, right to express her exaggerated fear by connecting it with Christian’s race. Was she describing her assailant when she described him as “an African-American man threatening her life” or invoking her white privilege? This might not have been objectively true, but was it “her truth”? The mob saw the video and ruled: No, Karen.
At a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court, a senior prosecutor asked a judge to dismiss the single misdemeanor charge against Ms. Cooper — falsely reporting an incident — and the judge agreed. Ms. Cooper had faced up to a year in jail if convicted.
Had this case not been on the front page of the New York Times, it would likely have been resolved at arraignment, either with an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) or a Conditional Discharge. Then again, had it not gone viral, it likely would not have been prosecuted at all. First offense misdemeanors are a warning, with some community service time, a silly but well-intended and surprisingly problematic gesture, thrown in to remind a defendant that he got the first one free. The next won’t be as easy.
Under normal circumstances, there isn’t a chance in hell that Amy Cooper would have faced jail time, not to mention the year max on a misdemeanor. Nor was the disposition without trial or plea in any way unusual for the usual case. Sure, some people end up getting spanked harder on a first offense, either because their case involved violence, their engaging in some sort of conduct in court that pushes a judge’s buttons, or incompetent counsel. But that’s very rare, and actually pretty hard to do. You have to try really hard to get a conviction and sentence on a first misdemeanor offense.
But this was no ordinary case. This was Amy Cooper.
The resolution of the case without a trial or a guilty plea was for some an anticlimactic ending to an incident that had provoked intense discussions across the country about how Black people are harmed by false reports to the police.
It’s unclear what her five sessions with a therapist involved. Was she being indoctrinated into the secular religion of the woke, to learn about her white fragility or white identity, and repent for her whiteness? Barnes was smart to have his client, in advance of any disposition, attend these sessions, as they gave the prosecution a plausible basis to relent, to claim this was a teachable rather than carceral moment. This was healing.
She said that Ms. Cooper had been offered the deal to attend an educational program in return for having the charge dismissed in part because it was her first arrest. The deal, the prosecutor said, was “designed not just to punish but to educate and promote community healing.”
Ms. Illuzzi-Orbon said the resolution fell under the rubric of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional prosecution that looks at the harm done and seeks reconciliation among the parties, including the offender, the victim and the community.
Yet, those whom one might expect to applaud such an outcome, to be anti-carceral and pro-restorative justice, were left unfulfilled by this outcome.
This isn’t surprising. This is how the system was designed to function — to protect the privileged from accountability.
What this means is unclear, but certainly raises the perpetual specter that it’s the dreaded “systemic racism,” and it seems that Amy Cooper was, indeed, prosecuted because of her race. Had she been black, nobody would have given a damn about what happened. If Christian Cooper had been white, Amy might have been a hero for her feelings. Had she not been the embodiment of Karen, but had still been arrested, extremely unlikely regardless of race, she would have gotten her ACD or Dis Con at arraignment without any therapy sessions. Instead, she was demonized personally, punished by the mob, then prosecuted because it would have been unseemly not to do so when everyone was obsessed with hating Karens.
This isn’t how the system was designed to function. Not for anyone, regardless of race. But regardless, it reveals that those calling for reform aren’t as concerned with the functioning of the system as they are with making sure people of a certain race are punished harshly. It’s not a concern for reform, but a concern for the skin color of the head of the corpse.