Tim Duncan speaks candidly on harrowing experience, race and police relations
Life was good in suburban Boston, Massachusetts for Tim Duncan.
Until it wasn’t so good anymore.
On June 1, the athletic director at the University of New Orleans bravely decided to post a video of a harrowing, sobering encounter he endured with law enforcement on May 20 while visiting his family, who were still living in Newton.
Since that time, his family has now made the move to New Orleans to join Duncan in his new hometown.
Thankfully, the family is still intact, as one.
Duncan spoke about the decision to post the video and about his difficult experience on The Life Resources Bottom Line Sports Hour Thursday night on 106.1 FM NASH ICON.
“I put the video out to help our African-American student-athletes so they can know the challenges that their uncles, parents, friends, relatives may have had with police aren’t just limited to them,” Duncan said. “And then for our non African-American student-athletes or those who come from maybe a different background that things like this don’t just happen to a criminal element or to some people who are labeled as thugs.”
On May 20, Newton police were searching for a murder suspect in the neighborhood that Duncan and his family lived in. They were looking for a tall African-American. Duncan then described his harrowing experience.
“I’m walking in a beautiful neighborhood right outside of Boston with my family to move them down here a couple of weeks ago and I was stopped, surrounded by cops,” Duncan said. “I’m walking with my wife on an afternoon in a neighborhood. We’re walking to Whole Foods and you know they just don’t put up Whole Foods anywhere.
“My street is in between the Trader Joe’s and the Whole Foods. It’s the best school district in the whole Boston area. I wanted our student athletes to know that if that can happen to me, it can happen to almost anyone. Don’t allow your perceptions to think that it’s just the criminal element who can be stopped and have a gun pulled on them in broad daylight.”
Duncan then described what happened when he and his wife got home.
“My wife and I have two sons and a daughter and as soon as we got home from that incident, we told them that we were stopped by the cops, they told me to put my hands in my head,” Duncan said. “My wife has been consistently saying ‘they told your dad to put his hands on his head and then they told him to go in his pocket and get his wallet and he said no.’ I asked the officer closest to me to go in my wallet. People have gotten shot and killed because they made sudden movements when a gun was on them. I didn’t want to make any movement.”
Duncan said he used the experience as a teaching experience for his children.
“That was part of the talk that I had given them before and part of the talk that my parents had given me,” Duncan said. “It’s almost like African-American folklore that you talk about how to protect your life in these incidences. And it’s still not guaranteed as we’ve seen. A man who was subdued and handcuffed had a knee on his throat for eight minutes and 46 seconds still died after he was subdued. It gives you the best chance to stay alive and that’s what I want for my kids.”
Duncan is humbled by the response he has gotten since telling his story.
“It’s been a little bit overwhelming how much it’s picked up here locally, back in Boston, back in Newton, back in Memphis, my hometown, in North Carolina where I used to live,” Duncan said. “I’ve gotten calls from friends, from former donors, from reporters, from all of those areas and the message has picked up. At the Southland Conference athletic director Zoom meeting yesterday, Tom Burnett, our commissioner, led off the meeting and talked about me and the video. He had called and offered his most sincerest thoughts with me. It’s resonating with people because I’m a regular guy.”
After getting over the initial shock, Duncan turned to feeling angry.
“That happens in our community and I’ve heard countless stories from my friends and family,” Duncan said. “What I was most disappointed in is that it didn’t piss me off initially. I normalized that situation and that shouldn’t be normal for anyone. Even when George Floyd was killed, I was pissed off at that situation but still didn’t relate it back to my own until one of my friends said that ‘Tim, you know that could have been you.’ That’s when I was like, ‘damn, it could have been me’ and why am I not upset about this?”
Duncan said he is not making it personal with the policemen who stopped him.
“This is not about the Newton police department,” Duncan said. “I loved living there. It’s a great town. They did what they thought their job was. I’ve spoken to their mayor, to their chief of police, to their civil rights officer. I’ve talked to them and they are self-reflecting. I told them there has to be a better way to do that. They were looking for a murderer. I want them to be cautious, but I don’t want a gun put in my face just because they are looking for a tall African-American and I’m tall and black. I asked them specifically, ‘was he 6-foot eight?’ They just said he was tall. There has to be a better description.”
The officers were remorseful afterwards.
“They apologized to me,” Duncan said. “I give them credit. They apologized. They told me they were looking for a murderer. And then they went on and zoomed off to look for a murderer. In that neighborhood and in any neighborhood, I want them to find a murderer. It was somebody that was murdered in Boston and what I found out is that it was a collaboration between Boston P.D. and Newton P.D. and he was hiding out over at his girlfriend’s house in my neighborhood. It could have been a man walking down the street with a woman. I get it. But it wasn’t.”
The hurt is real for someone who cares about others deeply.
“I love people and I want people to be safe and I want our African-American kids to be as safe as everyone else and part of that is we’ll do our part by making sure that I interact and raise law-abiding citizens,” Duncan said. “We’re going to do that. I hope one day that either them or their kids don’t have to worry about making sudden movements so they can say ‘officer, I didn’t do anything and I don’t know what you’re doing here.’ That would be nice. I would love for that to happen.”
Unfortunately, while some progress has been made with discrimination in society and the relationship of the African-American community with police department’s there is still a sizeable gap in terms of what needs to be done and with trust.
“I think the last week has shown just how far we need to go,” Duncan said. “We do have a long way to go. I think what people need to do is to put themselves in other people’s shoes and not try to make judgment based on our own limited view and just accept people for who they are and what they’ve been through because we definitely have at least two different America’s as far as how the perceptions are with African-Americans and non African-Americans. Other minorities have their own perspectives as well.”
Duncan feels it is time for people must be honest in assessing the state of where race relations are in the United States.
“We have some serious underlying problems that you don’t see on the surface that we have to get better at for us to have the type of country that we know we can all have, for sure,” Duncan said.
Despite the horror of what occurred to him, Duncan would be willing to endure it again.
“If it can help open people’s eyes, the whole episode was worth it,” Duncan said.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…