‘Cooper’s Troopers’: Teens March for Last Time to Honor Classmate Killed by a Driver 9 Years Ago
Upper West Side high schoolers for the last time marched in memory of their friend and classmate Cooper Stock, who was killed at the age of 9 by a turning cab driver in 2014 — a death that framed their lives and may have been a key impetus for the city’s adoption of Vision Zero.
The youngsters — “Cooper’s Troopers” — have been doing the walk from the Calhoun School every year to the intersection where Cooper was killed, and Thursday marked the final time for their tribute as they are set to graduate this year.
“I definitely had to mature fast — we all did. We had to face death a lot earlier than any kid should have to,” said Palmer Pyles, 18, one of Cooper’s best friends. “These marches, and this movement, and the fight for safer streets, and to stop traffic violence have been a part of my life ever since then.”
Cooper was killed in January 2014 when a cabbie turned and struck him and his father as they were crossing the street in the crosswalk and with the light at W. 97th and West End Avenue, right outside their home.
The kids began paying tribute to Cooper when they were only 9 or 10 years old in 2015. Every year since — for half their lives — they have spent a day at school talking about traffic violence, playing a game of basketball against teachers (Cooper loved basketball) and marching to the site of his death.
“These marches, I always look forward to it, because it’s a great way to just remember him,” said Zoe Litt, 17. “But it’s also really hard for me. It’s hard for everyone.
“It was a tragic thing that happened when we weren’t even double digits, we were in third grade,” she added.
The Council enacted a law named after Cooper allowing the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke its licenses to drivers who critically injure or kill, but the oversight agency was slow to actually apply that law against its reckless drivers.
The cab driver, Koffi Komlani, ended up getting just a $580 fine and a six-month license suspension, after then-District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. declined to file criminal charges against him in 2015.
Cooper’s friends have become vocal street safety advocates; in 2019, they pushed former Mayor Bill de Blasio for more speed cameras.
“These kids are learning and teaching other kids about all the problems about traffic violence, so there’s so many more people that know about it and it just keeps his legacy alive,” said Cooper’s mom, Dana Lerner, a member of Families for Safe Streets.
Half their lives later, the teenagers still wrestle with the loss of Cooper to senseless traffic violence, said one who grew up in the same building.
“For a long time, I was really really scared about being in cars, about crossing the street,” said Nathalie Christman. “I don’t have a driver’s license, and that kind of control and power to take someone’s life and change this many lives terrifies me.”
Added Ari Litt, another friend of Cooper’s: “You maybe don’t think, like, ‘Oh that would never happen to me,’ but it could happen to anyone, and it happened to him.”
Traffic violence continues to wreak havoc on New Yorkers.
“Whenever a child is killed, it’s like a lightning bolt goes through my body, because I know what these people are going through and it’s all wrong, and I feel like we have so much more work to do,” said Lerner.
She called on the city to make traffic violence a priority and counter the horrific trend.
“This is a silent epidemic,” said Lerner.
The mom said state lawmakers must also pass Sammy’s Law, named after another young boy, Samuel Cohen Eckstein, 12, who was killed by a driver in Brooklyn in 2013.
The bill would allow New York City to reduce its own speed limits to 20 miles per hour, but currently appears to be faltering in Albany as the Assembly does not plan to vote on it before politicians leave at the end of their session next week.
“We need to be able to make our own rules in New York City, I mean it makes absolutely no sense,” Lerner said.