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Prosecutors say Amy Cooper lied about a Black man assaulting her. American history has many other, more tragic examples

CNN logo CNN 10/15/2020 By Nicole Chavez, CNN
a dog playing with a frisbee © From Christian Cooper/Facebook

When Amy Cooper called police for a second time, she claimed that a Black man birdwatching tried to assault her. But it was a lie, prosecutors say.

A viral video captured the moments after Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. The incident in May was a flashpoint in ongoing national conversation about White people increasingly calling the police on Black people who are going about their everyday lives. It also took place on the same day Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd.

Now, Cooper's subsequent call to police -- made public Wednesday during a virtual hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court -- echoes the pattern of lies that White women have told about Black men since the Jim Crow era. And the consequences have often been deadly or led to wrongful convictions.

Cooper, who faces a misdemeanor charge for falsely reporting an incident, told the responding officers that Christian Cooper had not tried to assault her, the district attorney said.

"We will hold people who make false and racist 911 calls accountable," said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. on Wednesday. "Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the police response to Ms. Cooper's hoax."

Making a false report to 911 is a crime in New York and it's also against the state's civil rights law. Cooper has not entered a plea and her case was adjourned until November 17.

Here's a look at some past cases involving false accusations by White women against Black men and boys.

Emmett Till was accused of assaulting a woman

The savage murder of Emmett Till in 1955 happened after he was accused of flirting with and making advances at White woman who along with her husband owned a grocery store in Money, Mississippi.

Emmett had traveled there from Chicago to visit his great-uncle, who lived in the area.

Roy Bryant, the woman's husband, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, rousted Emmett from his bed in the middle of the night on August 28, 1955. They ordered him into the bed of a pickup and eventually beat him viciously before shooting him in the head.

The men strapped a 75-pound cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire so it would weigh him down when they tossed him in the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett's killing shook the nation as images of his disfigured face were published and crowds of people attended his funeral in Chicago, where his coffin was open for public viewing. His death helped fuel the burgeoning civil rights movement.

The woman, Carolyn Bryant, later testified for the defense and gave incendiary testimony accusing Emmett of grabbing and verbally threatening her.

In 2008, Carolyn Bryant spoke with Timothy Tyson, a Duke University scholar and author of "The Blood of Emmett Till," and admitted that she made up the damning allegations of Emmett's verbal and physical advances.

"I think everybody's known that since 1955. Nobody thought she was telling the truth to begin with and they didn't choose to prosecute her then," Tyson told reporters in 2018.

The Scottsboro Boys were accused of rape

In 1931, Nine Black boys -- ages 12 to 19 -- were falsely accused of raping two White women on a train near Scottsboro, Alabama.

The boys, known as the Scottsboro Boys, were en route to seek work in Memphis, Tennessee, when a fight broke out on the train and they were initially arrested on a minor charge. They were later accused of rape by two women.

They faced a series of trials and each of the nine spent at least six years in prison.

The trials resulted in two landmark US Supreme Court decisions -- one requiring that defendants be tried by juries of their peers, meaning blacks in their cases; the other requiring that indigent defendants receive competent counsel.

Alabama dropped rape charges against five of the defendants, and the sixth, Clarence Norris, received a pardon from Gov. George Wallace in 1976.

In 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles issued posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had neither already received a pardon nor had their convictions dropped

Groveland Four faced rape allegations

In 1949, four Black men were accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old White girl in Groveland, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. The group came to be called the "Groveland Four."

The girl, Norma Padgett, claimed her car broke down and the four men stopped and raped her.

The men -- Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas-- were arrested and three of them were tortured until police were able to elicit a confession from two of them.

Thomas, who managed to escape custody, was killed after a manhunt.

Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison. Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty. While being transported from county jail for a retrial, the sheriff shot them both and claimed self-defense.

Shepherd died at the scene and Irvin survived by playing dead. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Nearly 70 years after they were wrongfully accused, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued full posthumous pardons to the men last year.

She said a 9-year-old groped her before apologizing

Black men and boys have not stopped being falsely accused. While they are not facing lynchings like in the 20th century, many have served years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Even younger children have faced false accusations.

In 2018, a White woman apologized after a video showed her calling police to accuse a 9-year-old Black boy of groping her at a Brooklyn deli counter.

The woman, Teresa Klein, was widely criticized on social media after a video showing her and labeling her as "Cornerstore Caroline" was posted on Facebook on October 2018.

"I was just sexually assaulted by a child," Klein said on the video, appearing to be on the phone with a 911 operator.

The boy, wearing an oversized blue backpack, and a girl who appears younger than the boy, both burst into tears.

Days after the incident, Klein returned to the deli and watched surveillance footage that showed the child's backpack brushing up against her backside -- his hands in plain sight -- as she leaned over a Brooklyn deli counter.

"Young man, I don't know your name, but I'm sorry," the woman told reporters after watching the footage.

New York police told CNN at the time that the department received no 911 calls or complaints about the incident from the deli or a woman.

a group of people posing for a photo: Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee, from left, in Florida. The three men along with a fourth were charged with rape in 1949.

Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee, from left, in Florida. The three men along with a fourth were charged with rape in 1949.
© State Library and Archives of Florida via AP
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