Harold "Puff" Howard's statement regarding 1993 arrest

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The following is a statement from Columbia City Council District II candidate Harold "Puff" Howard regarding his 1993 arrest, which you can read about here:

Almost 20 years ago I was arrested because I challenged an inequitable situation.  I was arrested at the scene of an accident to which I arrived to provide towing services.  I was arrested, but not convicted; and as a result policy was changed, not just for Puff Howard's Towing, but for all towing services operating within the City of Columbia.  So, when you look at it, my arrest became a positive thing.

Twenty years ago towing services heard about accidents on scanners, and arrived at the scene of an accident to provide services without being called.  Also during that time police officers were allowed to work part-time for towing services, and many officers for the City of Columbia did just that.  One evening I arrived at the scene of an accident, and the officer working the scene was soliciting business for another towing service and trying to send me home.

You have to understand how it was back then, when we showed up at the scene of an accident, we were made to stand on the side or leave the scene…by we, I mean African-American towing services not just Puff Howard, but Howard, Davis, Happy Daddy, all of us.  We were all told to step aside or that we had to go.  Now, my brother Leon, he would complain.  He would talk to Frank (Frank McBride), want to register complaints and stuff like that.  But me, I was just tired of it.  I decided to take a stand, like Rosa Parks, I was just sick and tired, and I decided I wasn't going to be treated that way anymore.  I refused to leave the scene.

The officer working the scene of the accident arrested me.  It was wrong, and people knew it was wrong.  Frank McBride who was a representative at that time, Modjeska Simpkins and Lincoln Jenkins, Sr. stood with us.  It became a fight for equal rights, not just for Puff Howard's Towing, but for all black businesses.  It was a way to show that we provided services that were just as good as or better than those of our counter-part, but that all we needed was equal or fair opportunity in being recognized and considered for those services.  Back then, that wasn't happening.

Well anyway, after we fought and the charges were dropped, there was also policy change.  Change that to this day still stands:

  1. Tow trucks are no longer to respond to accidents unsolicited by way of a scanner.
  2. Towing services must be summoned to the scene of an accident by one of the victims, or by the police who use a rotating list from which to make calls.
  3. No police officer can work for, or have a vested interest in, a towing service.

The second incident involved the City of Columbia police, in a situation which I felt to be unfair, and sought to change.  About three years after the towing arrest, an officer who is no longer with the City of Columbia police force came to my shop to have his car repaired.  I quoted him a price for the car, and did the repair work.  However, when he came to get the car, he didn't want to pay.  His words to me were, "You know how this works, officers don't pay for this kind of thing."  I told him that I ran a business, and that I worked for payment.

He was upset and didn't take it well, a few days later my staff and I were out in the neighborhood attending a Family Fun Day event and all of us were arrested.  All of us.  Well of course, we challenged that; made everyone aware of my previous encounter with this officer.  Internal affairs got involved, the charges were dropped and I was not convicted of anything.  In fact, after that and several subsequent complaints, the officer was removed from the force.

I guess I never really thought about these incidents recently…they were so long ago; but they were public issues that resulted in positive change for me and others.  There were even articles written in The State newspaper.  In fact, there was an article maybe 2-3 years ago, in which they interviewed my brother Leon, and he talks about how things have been slow to change; particularly with the Highway Patrol and incidents with African-Americans.