A video of a recent incident on the Upper West Side of Manhattan has blown up on Twitter. A 40-year-old white woman is walking her dog in Central Park. A 58-year-old black man tells her to put the dog on a leash, and a confrontation ensues. We don’t know what happened before the video, but in the footage circulating on social media, the woman calls 911, fakes being attacked, and roughly handles her dog. The historian Rick Perlstein calls her actions “attempted homicide by cop.”
Interestingly enough, when the cops did arrive at the scene, they acted in a reasonably intelligent manner. They simply said “nothing to see here. Both of you move along.” As far as we know they didn’t try to arrest the man, and they didn’t take sides with the woman, who clearly racialized the confrontation in her 911 call. It’s hard to imagine her getting on the phone and saying something like “a white man is threatening my life.”
Most of the newsworthiness of this incident comes from our expectations of the way the NYPD normally handles confrontations like this. The woman clearly assumed that the 911 operator and the police officers would take her side and arrest the man. The people on Twitter who doxed the woman and attempted to get her from her job, clearly assumed that in most cases the police officers would have taken the man to Central Booking on Centre Street, where he would have been in great danger of contracting Covid-19. The woman’s employer, who put her on “administrative leave,” and the animal shelter that made her surrender the dog, clearly believed she acted with malicious intent, that it was more than a petty verbal confrontation, that she was actively trying to do the man harm. Yet the NYPD, as far as we know, uncharacteristically, kept their cool and remained neutral.
The lesson, I suppose, is that if everybody could reasonably assume that the police always act in a reasonable manner none of this would have happened.