BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard, who spoke in uniform at Saturday’s Spirit of America Rally in Buffalo's Niagara Square, faces a call to resign from Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner.
“To have the top law enforcement official in Erie County at this event, seeing these flags, seeing these hate speech signs, passing out literature, is appalling,” said Zellner.
Several Confederate symbols, such as the red and blue Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, were on display. There was also reference made to Scott Lacy's attendance. The Southern Poverty Law Center names him a member of white supremacy group Aryan Renaissance Society.
“Any white supremacists that were there, I knew nothing about. If they were there, and someone points them out to me, they’ll never be there again,” said Rus Thompson, TEA New York spokesperson.
Howard responded Sunday with a statement that says, in full:
"I agreed to speak at the Spirit of America rally to share my admiration and support for the United States Constitution and to raise the awareness of the broken immigration process that our leaders have failed to address over the past several years.
"I understand that some members of the crowd at this public event displayed a confederate flag and I know that members of the Black Lives Matter organization were there as well. But how can I denounce any group’s ability exercise their 1st Amendment right when I spoke at length about honoring our great society and our Constitution. But I do not support any group that uses violent and discriminatory rhetoric, but how can I limit their god given rights to public assembly and free expression.
"What is concerning to me is the Democratic chairman, with his ultra-left views, is calling on me to pick and choose which group is protected by the 1st Amendment and which one should be stripped of that right. I don’t support a white supremacist's view of discrimination and bigotry as I don’t support Black Lives Matter’s hate and call for killing law enforcement personnel.
"I stand by my speech which represents my love of the U.S. constitution and calls for our immigration system to be fixed and nothing else."
While some Erie County residents we spoke to feel something should have been said by Howard, Thompson stands by Howard's decision.
“I see no problem with law enforcement personnel that are in the uniform, especially in elected office, to stand there at a non-political event,” Thompson said.
Zellner is also calling for an ethics investigation into Howard's attendance.
Howard is up for election this year. Another candidate, Bernie Tolbert, issued this statement:
"The Erie County Sheriff should not have appeared in uniform at an event with such obviously offensive and hateful displays. The minute the confederate flags and racist signs went up Sheriff Howard should have denounced them and refused to participate until they were removed. The Sheriff swears an oath to defend the citizens of Erie County and his appearance at the event in uniform gave the impression that he was supporting the most extremist views of the crowd.
We can have different political views and even robust disagreements about them, but, in the City of Good Neighbors and throughout Erie County, as a community we can do better than this – for ourselves and for our children.
If I have the honor to serve as Sheriff, I pledge that I will not lend my name or the Sheriff’s badge to offensive speech of any party or political persuasion."