Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life of a Houston Artist…

Don Collins awoke the morning of Tuesday February 9th as he always does. He shook himself from his sleepy state and got ready for the day. After preparing for the day in his normal morning ritual he started out for his favorite coffee shop. Don does not drive; he walks. Don arrived at Taft St Coffee, the coffee shop that serves as both his studio and muse, and began to converse with his friends and those he does not know. Don draws people, places and things as they appear to him. After Don had finished at Taft St. he headed out for his next destination, a destination he would not reach.
As Don was crossing the road he heard the sound of an oncoming car so he instinctively sped up his pace to cross the street before becoming the next Houstonian to be the victim of a vehicular accident. After reaching the opposite curb Don heard the same car slam on its brakes and as he turned he saw that it was a Houston Police Department cruiser. By the time Don had turned around the passenger side officer was already out of the car walking toward him. Don is not a stranger to the H.P.D. and he knew what was coming. What followed was a horrible display of profiling by the HPD officers.
The first officer asked Don why he was walking so fast and requested to see his identification. The officer proceeded to ask Don who he was and tell him that he had never seen him in “their” neighborhood before. The next question was a forceful request to search Don’s backpack for his “crack pipe”; Don does not smoke crack. Upon searching his pack, much to the chagrin of Don’s personal rights, they discovered a bag of Crayola colored pencils (let me remind you Don is an Artist) and the officers proceeded to ask Don if he was a “pedophile”. The fact that the possession of colored pencils is enough for the police to think that someone is a pedophile is absurd, but also that they would ask such an audacious question to Don based off of the contents of his bag is overwhelmingly upsetting. Also during this absurd police investigation a mid-twenties African American man happened to be walking by and he received a harsh greeting and rude questioning as to his destination and reason for being where he was.
Upon searching through their records they found that Don had a few outstanding tickets and decided to take him in to process him through the system. The first holding cell that Don was placed in was a twenty-man cell that had about forty or fifty men in it. After several hours Don was moved to a smaller cell with three other men, one of whom was suffering from some mental ailments and had been in the cell for longer then he should have been in that situation. Don continually requested to talk with a superior officer (which is something that one of his cell-mates had for the previous two days) and was repeatedly told to talk to the next shift-captain, of which he saw about three come and go. Don finally went before a judge to deal with his delinquent tickets and copped a plea so that the frustrating madness would come to a more concise end. His tickets were written off after he spent some more time in his cell and was subsequently released.
As previously stated, Don is not a stranger to the HPD. In fact, they harass Don quite often. On top of being a wonderful artist, very friendly conversationalist and traveling philosopher, Don is also homeless. It is an upsetting fact that just because Don has the appearance of a homeless man and was walking faster than some police officer decided that he should have been, he was the subject of situational profiling and the harassment that comes with it. No man, whether he goes home to a multi-million dollar house or a pad made from cardboard and thrift-store blankets, should be subjected to such inhumane treatment. Don had not done anyone direct or even indirect harm in that situation and aside from his appearance and supposed unfamiliar presence in the neighborhood the officers had no feasible reason to “pull him over”.
This situation was upsetting to Don, but even more upsetting to those who care about him. Don is a kind and generous man to everyone both friend and stranger alike. Over the Christmas season Don sold cards based off of his paintings at Taft St Coffee and donated all the proceeds to the church that he has been attending so that they could dig fresh water wells over-seas. He is an accomplished artist, and a brilliant intellectual, nothing about him says dangerous, harmful, or even scary. This situation brings into questioning the methods by which our HPD officers are deciding who is and is not criminal. I can only hope that this situation will bring an inquiry into the police department and their practices of profiling.
This story was written by one of my teammates, Isaac about the injustices that have affected our dear friend Don. Isaac's intention was that people would see that these things happened to a beloved friend rather than just some homeless guy.

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