Many of us know the story of Selma, AL, where the Black Freedom Movement took bold action through direct actions to end segregation and fight for Black voting rights. Segregationist Sheriff Bull Connors in Birmingham, AL led violent attacks against brave local leaders through his deputies’ use of dogs, water hoses, mass arrests, and beatings in the jails.
Today, sheriffs across the country remain key figures carrying out a white supremacist agenda through state violence against Black and Brown communities.
Sheriff Departments used dogs and water hoses against Indigenous Water Protectors at Standing Rock. They aligned with the dangerous militia groups that undermined multi-racial democracy on January 6. Sheriffs serve local evictions and continue to funnel immigrants into a detention and deportation pipeline. They control county jail systems in both rural and urban areas and take local funding away from education, health care and housing to further militarize law enforcement.
Simply put, sheriffs are at the forefront of multiple intersecting areas of oppression against poor and working class people, Black and Brown communities, and those struggling with mental health or substance use.
SURJ has joined national and local coalitions challenging the power of sheriffs and working towards investing more resources in our communities by divesting from prisons, police, and the criminal legal system.
Our SURJ chapter in Buffalo is putting this strategy into practice and throwing down in a huge sheriff battle heating up in New York.
With a local sheriff’s election coming up on November 2, SURJ Buffalo is leading canvassing and phone banking to white voters to diminish the power of the Right, change jail conditions and support local Black-led efforts to divest from policing on the road to abolition. At SURJ, we know our role is to organize white people away from a racist law-and-order platform and towards abolition. The only way we can do that is through millions of conversations.