The Forgotten Man: Tony Timpa

If you are saying to yourself, "who is Tony Timpa and who cares?"  That's exactly the point!  But you should care, because what we learn about his story will teach us about the death of George Floyd, about the state of policing in America, and the state of our news media.

The short version of the story is that he died in police custody in Dallas, TX in August 2016.  He had schizophrenia and depression.  He wasn't taking his medication. But he did have an active cocaine habit.  Obviously, he had some serious problems going on.  One night while in public he had a sense that he was out of control.  He felt frantic and had trouble thinking, but he knew he needed help, so he called 911.  The details after that are blurry but what is certain is that police restrained his hands and feet.  They put him face down on the ground and one officer kneeled on his back for close to 14 minutes.  At some point before the officer got off of him, Tony Timpa had died.  I am sure you have never heard Tony's story, but I am also sure that it sounds very familiar.

It is striking on several levels how similar the death of Tony Timpa is to the death of George Floyd.  Here is a list of things their stories have in common:

  • They both had a problem with drug addiction
  • They had big problems other than drugs (i.e. crime, mental health)
  • Their last interactions with police occurred during times of moral failing
    • Tony was at a porn store, high on cocaine
    • George had used counterfeit money, high on meth and marijuana
  • During these encounters with the police they both were in erratic mental states
  • They were both bound with their hands behind their backs laying on their stomachs on concrete
  • Policemen pinned them down by applying body weight by the knee to their upper back or neck
  • Tony and George tried to communicate with police that their lives were in danger
  • They both died within a similar period of time while being restrained, 9 minutes vs. 14 minutes
With two stories so similar and so tragic, it should be a surprise that Tony's death was never widely reported while the whole world knows about George Floyd.  Not only that, mass protests were held in major cities around the world.  Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people saw the video of George Floyd's death and were motivated to action by a combination of rage, grief, and indignation.

George Floyd's death has become highly politicized but I hope there is wide agreement that Chauvin, the policeman, used more force than was necessary and the others with him didn't intervene to protect life.  In both cases, Tony's and George's, they were not a present threat to the police or the public.  I am not defending the behavior or morality of either Tony or George either.  I am simply saying their lives were not respected by the police.  We should all be concerned that representatives of our local governments act in such a manner.  You don't have to believe All Cops Are Bastards to be concerned.  You can also believe that Tony and George would have died soon enough without this specific encounter with police and still believe the the policemen were guilty of violence and neglect against them.

Now let's switch focus to what made the two men different, and think what larger truths we can induce.  Here is another list to get you thinking.
  • Tony was white, George was black
  • Tony's death had no witnesses and the video wasn't viewed by many.  George's death was witnessed by a crowd and the video went viral
  • Tony received very little media attention, George was the top national story for months
  • Tony's incident happened during the night, George's during the day
  • Tony's family received NO compensation, George's family received $27 million from a civil suit
  • The policemen who restrained Tony weren't legally held accountable, Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and the other policemen now face federal charges
The similarities and the differences of these two stories should be shocking.  They should cause you to think, question, and even give you a tinge of anguish.  What is going on in the world when police act in such a manner, and news media respond so differently?  Here are the answers I come up with through comparing and contrasting the two stories.

First, the police in America can be very negligent and routinely apply excessive force.  They do not always protect and serve.  We need to acknowledge that fact and make changes to how police operate.  I don't conclude that all or even most police do this, but we must recognize that when police misconduct happens it is a huge threat to our life and liberty.  When it happens it must be punished.  We need to do whatever is needed to increase accountability.  Reforms such as eliminating civil asset forfeiture, qualified immunity, and police unions are urgent priorities if we want to reduce oppression while still supporting public security.

A longer term reform but just as important is to reduce the number of laws on the books. That reduces the total number of police interactions with people and also focuses the remaining interaction on situations when there truly is a public security issue.  Police represent state violence.  Therefore, we should only call them to action when there is violent crime or it is expected that violence will be needed to address the situation.  Limiting police/populace interaction will necessarily reduce police misconduct.

Related to this point, police brutality is not a racial issue.  I know these are just two examples out of hundreds or thousands.  But they are representative of broader statistics.  Police harm and kill people irrespective of what race they are.  For more on this you can read the work of John Lott.  Joe Cesario, a professor at Michigan St., analyzes police shooting data and also conducts bias testing at police departments across the US.  He concludes there is no racial bigotry.  That means the problem is between the government and citizens, not races.

Second, Tony and George died through a mixture of drug abuse, bad physical and mental health, being positioned with hands behind their back while laying on their stomachs, and having a person kneeling with their body weight on the upper back or neck.  Neither probably dies if they were in great health and sober.  Regardless neither dies without 9-14 minutes of pressure from body weight restricting the breathing process.

Following that, police need to recognize that people who are on drugs are more susceptible to health effects and death when trying to restrain and detain them.  Policy needs to take this into account.  Just because a person is bad or immoral  or under the influence of drugs doesn't mean their lives are valueless.  At no time were the officers' lives in danger during the interactions with Tony Timpa or George Floyd.  Police need to take that into account.  Of course they need to protect the lives of the community, but they must do the same for those who are under their custody.

Third, newsmakers exist.  People running TV news and social media are trying to get us to believe a specific viewpoint.  They choose what stories to televise and write about.  CBS covered the Tony Timpa death with a small local article.  But no larger news agency reported it to a broader audience.  Newsmakers choose what kind of language they use to describe the people and the events.  They know if they keep a story in the spotlight that they can sway public opinion and force counter action.  George Floyd was the central story on every news channel and in social media for weeks and even months.  Citizens need to think outside of what news is fed to them.  We need to critically analyze not just the events reported on but the whole news industry.  We must think about how information is delivered to us in the context of all that happens every day in the world.

Fourth, because of the focus on race, blacks or non-whites are more likely to compensated for police misconduct today.  Police departments know that killing a white person will bring no attention.  There will be no protests.  There will be no media coverage.  The police unions will be able to protect misconduct with no accountability.  There are many examples of this (i.e. Daniel Shaver, Duncan Lemp).  This is a failure of the rule of law.  It goes against the biblical principle of not showing partiality to one person compared to another.  It is also evidence that our society's elites are acting upon the ideals of social justice.  Social justice calls for society to redistribute wealth to groups of people who in the past were discriminated against.  It means highlighting injustices committed against minority groups and ignoring injustices committed against people from majority culture.  But Tony Timpa didn't hold any power over any one.  He lived a troubled life and suffered a tragic death, just like George Floyd.  They were way more similar than they were different, but their stories couldn't have been treated any more differently.




The world, the media, the elite of our society would tell you that George and Tony have nothing in common.  One had every privilege in life the other every obstacle.  I say they these two men are bonded by the long list of things they held in common.  The most important things about their lives and deaths are the same.


Comments

  1. Hello, RMB. I found my way here via reddit absolutist NRx and then Bionic Mosquito's recent 'Missing Link' blog post.

    You have been more than fair in comparing the deaths of Tony Timpa and George Floyd, then describing the disproportionate reaction to the latter's death by nearly every part of society e.g. our legislators, academics, public health authorities (e.g. CDC declared that systemic racism and white supremacy is a greater threat than COVID-19 in June 2020), literati, corporations, clergy, K-12 educators, and of course, our news media.

    I would go farther though. Tony Timpa INITIATED the call to 911. He acknowledged that he hadn't taken his medication for schizophrenia and depression and needed help. I will not contrast his situation with the circumstances of George Floyd's death. The salient point is that extinguishing the life of Timpa was of no significance to the powers that be. His life was clearly worth nothing in comparison to that of George Floyd. There was no punishment for Timpa's killers, no civil liability or acknowledgement to his family for their son's death. There was certainly no public outcry over his loss, nationwide introspection and mourning over the injustice of it.

    There must be equal justice under the law. Tony Timpa was a white man. His rights and his worth is not any less than of a black man. One would never know that, based on the aftermath of their deaths. This sort of disproportionate and unequal justice will be the end of our republic, if it isn't already.

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    Replies
    1. First, of all thanks for reading my blog and adding a comment. Second, I totally agree with you. Tony was betrayed by those he was depending on for help. Stories like this are why policing has become such a problem in the US. They simply aren't protecting and serving as they are supposed to and there needs to be accountability.

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