A few days ago, Bernie Tolbert and I stood together to tell Erie County the truth about the Sheriff’s Department: that it has never been meaningfully audited under Sheriff Howard, and that that has led to a tragic loss of life, and millions of our dollars.
Last week, the Republican incumbents came together to show us their worst selves. Stefan, claiming to have performed an “audit” with seemingly no idea what that word means, and Howard arrested six men who were behind on child support payments.
While arrest is a legal solution when someone doesn’t pay their child support, it’s not necessarily the best use of the law. In some cases, non-custodial parents are unable to pay large amounts of arrears because of issues with chronic poverty, mental health, and substance abuse issues. Arresting someone who doesn’t have the tools to address these problems amounts to nothing more than a debtor’s prison and can disrupt any normalcy that exists in their lives, making the problem worse.
To that point, their press release does not say how far behind on payments the arrested men are, nor how long it had been since they have made payments. It does not discuss whether they are employed or facing medical crisis. It does not tell us how often they read to their children, or put them to bed at night. None of these details are provided, but they are careful to insult the integrity of these men over and over: Naming them and listing their age and the city in which they live. According to Stefan and Howard, they’re simply “deadbeats”.
Let me be clear: We believe parents should contribute equally to the care of their children. And that they should be held accountable when they fail to do so. But this is not what justice looks like. Stefan and Howard, who were elected to serve and protect the residents of Erie County, are instead seeking headlines above all else. And they have shown us what they are capable of in this “sweep”.
Let me say what must be obvious to any of you who have ever struggled economically: There is nothing these men can do to care for their families from the inside of a jail cell. And every moment they spend in that jail cell makes them more likely to become victims of the culture of racism, classism, and bigotry that has, in its most extreme cases, led to wrongful deaths inside of Howard’s jails.
The incumbent comptroller, a tagalong on Howard’s headline, claims to have performed an audit— again showing his ignorance of what an audit actually is. This is a claim that any accountant would find laughable. A quick read of this document shows it was hastily thrown together, more of the same unprofessional work product we have come to expect.
Erie County, in my opinion, the real deadbeats are the two incumbents who have failed to represent Erie County well, while taking our hard earned dollars.
We can and MUST end this hateful, unjust behavior. The only place we can do that is inside the polling booth on November 7th.