Tim Harmon is the kind of guy who gets involved in the life around him. He says it's the way he was brought up; it's what he considers Citizenship 101. Harmon, known throughout the city for his work with architectural salvage and a former Governor's Arts Award honoree, tells a story about the time he was driving and saw a couple in another car open their door and drop a dirty diaper on the street: "I picked up that diaper and caught up with them, got out and said, 'C'mon. This is pretty lowlife.' They apologized and said it stunk. 'I know,' I said, 'it's been in my car!'"
Three years ago, on Race Weekend, Harmon was at the intersection of East St. and Virginia, when a motorist on Harmon's left cut him off by turning right, almost causing an accident.
Harmon describes this incident and what followed in a new book called A Day in the Life of a Very Bad Person. At first glance, A Day in the Life looks like a children's book. It's square, with a soft cover adorned with a crayon illustration of a sad face behind bars that looks like it was drawn by a seven year-old.
In fact, Harmon, who is over 60, drew the cover image — as well as the rest of the illustrations throughout the book. And while the story that the illustrations accompany is told in a simple, plain-spoken prose that any third grader might understand, A Day in the Life is not really a children's book, but Harmon's way of making a point about what he considers the gratuitous abuse of power by local police.
Harmon followed the motorist who almost hit him in order, he says in the book, to, "explain how dangerously close they came to crashing back there. We all need to be careful and help each other when we can."
A day in the pokey
Harmon got out of his car to impart this insight, but the other driver sped off (running a red light, says Harmon) and alerted some nearby cops. When Harmon approached the cops to explain the situation, he suddenly found himself on the wrong side of the law – or, at any rate, local law enforcement.
As Harmon tells it in A Day in the Life: "The policeman quietly listened as Tim explained what had happened. Then the policeman said to Tim, 'Who the god damn fuck are you to tell someone else they made a mistake?'"
This was just the beginning of what would be a very long 22 hours for Tim Harmon. In addition to a torrent of verbal abuse, Harmon was also subjected to being handcuffed and hauled off to the lock-up in a paddy wagon.
"You're completely at their mercy," says Harmon today about the experience. "One minute you're walking down the street as if you're an adult, taking care of your needs, as you have for 60 years. All of a sudden, every right you've ever had is taken away from you and you don't even know how long you're [being locked up] for. In my case, you have no idea what you did. There was no explanation."
Harmon was never charged with having committed a crime. "They can drive up and order you into the car, knock you to the ground, handcuff you, put you in a patrol car and keep you for 72 hours," says Harmon. "I got off lucky with 22 hours."
Presenting his story as if it were a children's book works, in this case, as a way of evoking the violation of innocence Harmon felt at the hands of IMPD. He wrote the first draft in the first 24 hours after his release from the lock-up. "I don't know why I wrote it in this style," he says. "I just wanted to not forget it."
As Harmon related what happened to him to friends and neighbors, he began hearing of other peoples' run-ins with IMPD and became convinced that sharing his story in public was important. "I don't know that I want to be a poster boy for citizens' rights or police reform," says Harmon. "I would like to see some things happen. I don't care if you're the mailman or a waitress in a restaurant, you don't talk to people the way I was talked to."
While Harmon now admits that maybe getting out of his car to approach another motorist might not be the best way of communicating, he stands by his belief that sharing a piece of his mind is an important part of citizenship – and something that shouldn't be left only to the police. "It's about everybody working together to make this a livable city. I do take it upon myself to talk to people about trash or running a stop sign, but not at all in what I think is a judgmental way. The police can't be everywhere and I don't set myself up as a one-man police force. I'm just a neighbor living in a neighborhood. When people do dangerous things, I think we neighbors need to talk to each other."
Harmon says he thinks the police have become confused about their role in society. "Police have forgotten how to talk to people," he says. "They were saying, 'You have no right to tell another person they made a mistake. If you want to tell other people what to do, you need to go to the police academy, like we did.' That's just crazy. These aren't rules we can live together by. I don't think we can have cities and neighborhoods if everyone minds their own business and we don't speak to each other."
The irony is that, in A Day in the Life of a very Bad Person, as Harmon is being pushed into the paddy wagon, the officer who has been cursing him says, "You know, when I look at myself in the mirror tonight, I am going to feel really bad for the way I treated you today!"
"I don't know why he chose to say that. I do believe he was really sincere," Harmon says. "A lot of this story is saying: This is what's happening on a city street today in Indianapolis, Indiana. We can't continue treating each other this way."