Chris Cooper Is My Brother. Here’s Why I Posted His Video and Masai Ujiri: To overcome racism, we must raise our voices

There are so many thoughtful commentaries on anti-black racism given the number of violent and potentially violent incidents. Two of my favourites are this one, by Melanie Cooper the sister of Chris Cooper who was threatened in Central Park and the one below by Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors

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. My brother. 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.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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