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Thursday 1 December 2022
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An Open Letter to Mr. Flagler-Mitchell: It’s Time for you to Step Down!

Lakaya Sinclair gave a statement to the media calling for the resignation of Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell after accusations of sexual harassment. File photo.

Friday, a number of women of color spoke out in support of Lakaya Sinclair, the young Black woman who accused County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell of sexual harassment. Now it is time for Black men to demand that Brother Ernest step down.

As a man it is easy to sit back and watch without saying anything as Lakaya takes her licks and struggles to be seen as a human being with feelings and dignity. We men have a tendency to trivialize women, in line with the pattern of the dominant society; we have learned well. But women — and Black women specifically — are not here on earth just for our enjoyment. Ernest needs to admit that it can be a threat to a woman’s safety and well-being to receive a suggestive and obscene message from a community Elder from whom she is seeking help. It is also demeaning…her true worth is obscured by her treatment as a mere sex toy. How can she be taken seriously?

As a man, it’s natural to have lustful thoughts, but part of growing up is learning to move on from those thoughts, and to act responsibly. There are commitments to family, friends and community and perhaps a spouse to which we hold ourselves. If we can’t do that, we need to be in treatment, not in the County Legislature. We are always complaining that we don’t have leaders like we used to. Well, let us become the leaders that we need to be! Our community needs people in authority who can be trusted to be guardians, not predators. When we take an oath of office it must be a sacred oath in the deepest sense.

Why is it important for Black men to realize this and to support women like Sister Lakaya? Because until we can fully empathize with Lakaya’s plight, we cannot be the protectors of the Beloved Community that we like to think we are. To be a great community, we must hold each other accountable. Think about it: When we see a Black man rise to a position of prominence in the community, we don’t want to say anything negative about him. We want to say that a little fooling around is just part of politics. But that kind of thinking is part of the poisonous mindset that lets us settle for a place at the table (or gets us a seat at the table) without doing actual service for the community once we get there.

Mr. Flagler-Mitchell met Ms. Sinclair at a park near her home, with a group of ministers and officials who had come to help allay the pain of a mass shooting. She had lost friends, and that shooting could have caused Ms. Sinclair’s death. In spite of her pain, Mr. Flagler-Mitchell allowed himself the privilege to seek sexual favors from her. And it appears that it is far from the only time he has done this. That’s not a mistake, but a pattern for him. Nevertheless, Ms. Sinclair is quoted in a news article as saying “I hate that a part of me feels bad for him, even coming forward with my story,” … “I feel like I’m attacking a Black brother that’s made it to the county legislature and I’m just taking his seat away from him.” Lakaya, understand this: Your coming forward means that you have performed your responsibility to the village. Now the village must reflect back and do its part.

We adults must step up and be an example for the young people. We must demand the best from ourselves in order to overcome the self-hatred that is causing, among other things, young Black men to be killing each other in sickening numbers right before our eyes. We are not perfect, but we will do the best we can. We must find our deep love for one another and then must trust each other. Yes, love. And trust. It’s not macho; but it’s what we need. And it creates the ground for courage…to truly be protectors.

Without our women we are nothing. Forgive us, Sister Lakaya, for the pain we have caused you. Now we are asking Black men to join us in taking a renewed responsibility for our community’s well-being. We demand this of you, Brother Ernest: have the courage to look at your situation honestly, and step down for the good of the village.

Sincerely,

James and Erin Thompson