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Charlottesville violence fires up "Fire Howard" advocates

Erie County Holding Center, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo
Erie County Sheriff's Department
Erie County Holding Center, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo

A White anti-racism group is going door to door Monday evening in an effort to oust Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard from office.

The neighborhood canvassing led by the Buffalo chapter of "Showing Up for Racial Justice" is part of the "Fire Howard" campaign that has been heating up since spring. Spokesperson Josie Diebold said dozens of Erie County residents will be out beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Town of Tonawanda American Legion.

"Over 20 people have died in the Holding Center," said Diebold. "The Department of Justice in the late 2000s actually filed a lawsuit because of the deathly conditions in his jail. And just recently we saw [Howard] in April appear at a rally where there were White Supremacists in attendance, Confederate flags flying and, in the wake of that, he has not once denounced the racist and hateful rhetoric that was present at that rally." 

After four years, the DOJ dropped the lawsuit then-Erie County Executive Chris Collins said could not be won. Collins at the time said the county saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by forcing the DOJ to drop the suit.

Then-U.S. Attorney William Hochul said the suit was dropped because the county signed a promise to uphold "minimal constitutional standards" at the Holding Center and the Alden Correctional Facility.

After the "Spirit of America" rally in April, Howard issued a statement saying stood by his speech, made in uniform to bring awareness to "the broken immigration process" leaders have "failed to address the past several years." In response to critics, Howard reiterated that he "does not support any group that uses violent or discriminatory rhetoric," but also will not "limit their god given rights to public assembly and free expression."

That is not good enough for Diebold, who said the weekend's violence in Charlottesville, VA highlights the need to hold local leaders accountable.

"There is violence and there are bad conditions at the jail and he hasn't made actions to reverse that, where it's his responsibility," said Diebold. "So it may be complete acts of omission, but he is responsible for ensuring that individuals who come into the Holding Center are safe and he has shown repeatedly time and time again with suicides and deaths of inmates that that is not the reality."

She said the group is not advocating another candidate for Sheriff, only focusing on removing Howard from office. So far, former FBI Agent in Charge Bernie Tolbert has announced his candidacy for Sheriff.

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