Image shows a group of 4 white people who look to be in their 30's, standing outside. One of them is holding a Kim Beaty yard sign.

This fight is personal- and urgent

Sending greetings from my hometown, Buffalo, where we are in the final throes of a big fight. As many of you know, my family has lived and organized here for generations.

Our Sheriff Office is the largest in New York State and the 14th largest in the nation. Erie County jails are deadly – 32 people have died in the jail system under the watch of Right-wing Sheriff Tim Howard. An investigation of the jail conditions by the New York State Department of Corrections found the treatment of people incarcerated there “grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.” The current Sheriff Tim Howard has aligned himself with the far-Right, including white supremacist groups and Trump.

image shows a white woman in front of a bright teal building. She is bundled in a puffy coat and has a scarf on. The caption reads "SURJ National Director Erin Heaney campaigning to oust Sheriff Howard in 2017!"

In 2017, the last time Sheriff Howard was up for election, the SURJ chapter here in Buffalo knocked the doors of thousands of white voters to move them to vote him out (I’m pictured above working on that race). And despite massive odds, through direct action, phone banking, and door knocking we closed Howard’s margin of victory to just 3,300 votes. And then we didn’t let up. In 2018, we fought and won cuts to the Sheriff’s budget. Alongside our partners, we fought Sheriff Howard to release people from the county jails when COVID-19 hit. 

And this year, we’re going to elect Kim Beaty, a Black Democrat, to win the race. A win will open up more space for frontline communities to keep winning transformative demands in our county – including reducing the number of people incarcerated, improving conditions and saving lives, and closing a county jail. 

Can you make a split gift to SURJ and our local partner Black Love Resists in the Rust to fight for change in Buffalo?

Image shows a large group of white people of all ages, standing outside in a neighborhood holding Kim Beaty yard signs.

While my introduction to these white supremacists groups and to the conditions in the holding center have come through my organizing for the dignity and lives of others, I know that my own dignity and life are also at stake. These groups that Sheriff Howard has aligned with and who give him and the GOP political power are also deeply homophobic. As a queer woman, I know that as white supremacist and white nationalist groups groups continue to become more accepted and mainstream, my dignity and the lives of people I love are also under attack. 

Image shows an older white man wearing a sheriff's uniform, speaking at a public event. There are American flags and confederate flags in the background.
Former Sheriff Howard has endorsed John Garcia as his successor

I also know that the Sheriff’s office is sucking up resources in the place I love and call home. All around me, I see places in my community that need investment – I’ve had loved ones not get a hospital bed for days after they needed one, there are nurses fighting for a fair wage in the midst of the pandemic, the county is scraping by to provide COVID relief – and meanwhile the Sheriff’s budget gets more and more money every year. I want to live in a world where everyone has what they need to thrive – quality public education, healthcare, and so much more. That can’t exist while we keep throwing millions and millions of dollars into the Sheriff’s office, here and around the country. 

Locally and nationally, we’ve been hard at work to win this race. Our national members have joined the SURJ Buffalo team to phone bank voters weekly. Every Sunday for months we’ve hit the doors talking to white voters in the suburbs to ensure they show up alongside voters of color this election to support change. As of today, we’ve knocked 3,938 doors, called 43,352 voters, and texted 29,264 more. 

We’ve got big plans to engage thousands more voters in the next week. Can you join us?

Let’s get this done!

In solidarity, 

Erin Heaney | SURJ National Director

Image shows a white woman at a rally, holding a sign and shouting. The sign reads "...her care, custody and safe keeping by Erie County sheriff deputies was so grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience."
Scroll to Top