The incident appears to have begun as one of those banal and brusque dust-ups between two New Yorkers. A black man, an avid birder, asked a white woman to leash her dog in Central Park, as the rules required. She refused.
Then the encounter, which was recorded on video, took an ugly turn.
As the man, Christian Cooper, filmed on his phone, the woman, clutching her thrashing dog, called the police, her voice rising in hysteria.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she said to him while dialing, then repeated to the operator, twice, “African-American.”
The video, posted to Twitter on Memorial Day by Mr. Cooper’s sister, has been viewed more than 30 million times, touching off intense discussions about the history of false accusations made to the police against black people, sometimes putting their lives in danger.
Within 24 hours, the woman, identified as Amy Cooper (no relation to Mr. Cooper), had given up her dog, publicly apologized and been fired from her job. Mr. Cooper expressed regret for the extent of the retribution.
The incident took place around 8:10 a.m. on Monday in the Ramble, a semi-wild section of Central Park where dogs are required to be on leashes at all times.
After Ms. Cooper refused to restrain the dog, Mr. Cooper said he planned to offer the dog treats to induce her to leash the animal so that the dog wouldn’t run for the treat, according to a Facebook post in which he documented his version of their exchange.
“Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” he told her, before he pulled out the treats and began filming, according to his post.
Mr. Cooper then produced dog treats, he said.
“I pull out the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence,” he wrote. “That’s when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn,” he said, using the name that has become slang for an entitled white woman.
The video captures Ms. Cooper first asking Mr. Cooper to stop filming her, then saying she will call the police and claim that she is being threatened by “an African-American.”
“Please tell them whatever you like,” Mr. Cooper said off-camera.
She proceeded to call.
“I’m in the Ramble, there is a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog,” she said to the 911 operator as she gripped her pet’s collar tightly.
She added: “I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!”
Then she hung up.
“Thank you,” Mr. Cooper said after she put her dog on a leash, just before the video ends.
On Tuesday afternoon, he said in an interview, “I was quite adamant that I was going to tape her as long as the scofflaw behavior was continuing,” despite the threats.
“I didn’t want to kowtow to that, I didn’t want to give it any power,” he added. “I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization.”
“I am one of the few male African-Americans who birds the Ramble regularly,” he said. “And I have always been aware that if I am crawling around behind a shrub trying to catch a glimpse of that rare bird, holding a metal object in my hands, I will be perceived differently than a white man if police come across that scene.”
The police said they had responded to the report of an assault in Central Park on Monday morning.
“Upon arrival, police determined two individuals had engaged in a verbal dispute,” said Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, a police spokeswoman. No summons were issued and there was no arrest made.
Shortly after the video was posted on Monday, someone who said they had been the white woman’s dog walker identified her. Her name soon began trending on Twitter.
Internet sleuths digging into Ms. Cooper’s life found an Instagram profile of her dog, Henry, and began sharing old photos documenting injuries he had suffered.
By nightfall, she had surrendered Henry to the cocker spaniel rescue group she had adopted him from two years before, according to a Facebook post by the group.
On Tuesday night, Ms. Cooper publicly apologized in a statement and sought to explain her response.
“When Chris began offering treats to my dog and confronted me in an area where there was no one else nearby and said, ‘You’re not going to like what I’m going to do next,’ I assumed we were being threatened when all he had intended to do was record our encounter on his phone,” Ms. Cooper said. “He had every right to request that I leash my dog in an area where it was required.”
She continued: “I am well aware of the pain that misassumptions and insensitive statements about race cause and would never have imagined that I would be involved in the type of incident that occurred.”
On Monday evening, Ms. Cooper’s employer, Franklin Templeton said she had been placed on leave while the incident was being investigated.
Ms. Cooper had been a head of insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, according to her LinkedIn page, and graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
On Tuesday afternoon, Franklin Templeton announced that she had been fired.
Mr. Cooper said in the interview that he had been overwhelmed by the response to his video, but that the retribution against Ms. Cooper had taken him aback.
“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”
Ms. Cooper did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Adding to the fractiousness of the exchange are longstanding tensions between birders and dog walkers in Central Park, magnified by the fraught climate of the pandemic lockdown.
At one point, Ms. Cooper, wearing a face mask, lunged toward Mr. Cooper, a behavior that some who viewed the video have called an assault, because of the violation of social- distancing rules that occurs.
But even without the pandemic and the location, the legacy of these kinds of confrontations looms large, according to Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.
“It was particularly a punch in the gut for a lot of people,” Professor Russell-Brown said. “It ties into and taps into a long history of white women, in particular, falsely accusing black men of crimes that leads to great harm.”
Professor Russell-Brown is the author of “The Color of Crime,” in which she explores the phenomenon of the “racial hoax” in which people fabricate crimes perpetrated by people of another race.
“This is deeply offensive,” she said. “Particularly as we are in a climate writ large of the expendability of black and brown lives in the midst of Covid-19.”