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Crashed Servers. Social Media Mobs. A Racist 911 Rant.

A Franklin Templeton leader creates a nightmare for a black birdwatcher and a staid asset manager.

“That lady in Central Park is a PM at an asset manager,” one chief investment officer tweeted Monday night, followed by a facepalm emoji. 

No one wondered whom Liz Simmie was talking about. 

At 1pm on Memorial Day, filmmaker Melody Cooper posted a video made by her brother Christian. It shows a white woman calling 911 on him, a birdwatcher who’d asked the woman to leash her dog as Central Park rules require. 

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” the dog owner says to Christian Cooper while dialing, then repeats to the operator, he’s “African-American.”

The video has been viewed nearly 30 million times. Many people on social media pointed to Emmett Till, who was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman and then murdered by white vigilantes.

Encounters with police involve far greater risk for black people — men especially — than for people of most other races, even when unarmed, researchers find. “A substantial body of evidence shows that people of color, especially African Americans, are at greater risk for experiencing criminal justice contact and police-involved harm than are whites,” according to a 2019 study.

Within hours, the caller had been identified as Amy Cooper, head of insurance solutions for Franklin Templeton. Cooper instantly shot up to among the most viewed profiles on the Bloomberg terminal. Franklin Templeton’s website crashed Monday, and the homepage was intermittently offline as of Tuesday afternoon.

The staid asset management firm runs about $600 billion and employs thousands of people. Cooper is no longer one of them.

“Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately,” Franklin Templeton said Tuesday in a widely distributed statement. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”

The company had put New York City-based Cooper on administrative leave Monday, which typically means removing an employee’s responsibilities during an investigative but continuing to pay them and provide benefits.

But merely firing Cooper won’t rectify any professional damage she could have inflicted as a toxic leader over many years, critics pointed out.

“I hope Franklin Templeton has a legal or HR team that is willing to work overtime looking into every single interaction Amy Cooper has had with every single person of color in her firm,” wrote Twitter user Michelle Bhasin, drawing more than 14,000 likes. “I would suggest interviews start with the mailroom or janitorial and work up to management.”

Franklin Templeton will not be the last asset manager to face this kind of a nightmare, an executive at a financial public relations firm warned. “Things unfold so quickly now, particularly with social media. Before you know it, you could have a major crisis on your hands.”