Webster supervisor writes controversial column about #BLM protest
Supervisor: ‘My guess is that few if any of the attendees live in Webster’
About 1,000 comments (and counting) flooded a particularly controversial Facebook post by the Webster town supervisor as of Monday, Oct. 12. The supervisor shared his column across the town’s social media pages, as well as in the Oct. 7 issue of the Webster Herald, in which he expressed his thoughts about a recent “Black Lives Matter” protest.
In his column, which he titled, “Peaceful Protest... or Harassment Challenging the Right of Quiet Enjoyment?” Webster Town Supervisor Thomas Flaherty shares his disapproval of a #BLM protest that took place on Oct. 2 in a Webster neighborhood.
“...was this a peaceful protest exercising the right of free speech? Or was it a show of force in numbers, representative of more gangland rules of intimidation and threats?” Supervisor Flaherty wrote.
The protest took place outside of Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley’s home in Webster. Protestors were reportedly chanting for the D.A.’s resignation.
According to the supervisor’s column, about 100 people came “across the Bay Bridge” in their cars and set up outside of the D.A.’s house around 9:15 p.m. and left by 10 p.m. He writes that these protestors banged drums and chanted for the D.A. to resign, and “used a lot of loud profanity in doing so.”
The supervisor goes on to say that the neighbors in the area were “shaken up” by the experience, and “did not move to Webster to endure things like this in front of their home.”
Supervisor Flaherty disclosed in his column that Doorley and her family are personal friends of his.
“With that being said, I admit in my bias that I did NOT like that happening to my friends,” the supervisor wrote. “I further did NOT like that experience having to happen to their neighbors. It is easy now that the event is over to say that there was NO property damage or people that got hurt. But as the event was unfolding, the anxiety and fear created for the people in that neighborhood must have been terrifying.”
Many members of the community - Webster residents, city residents, and even residents from Spencerport, Greece, and other Monroe County areas - are outraged by Supervisor Flaherty’s remarks.
“I'm a homeowner in Webster and am absolutely disgusted by your statement,” Natasha Chen Christensen publicly commented, directing her comment to the supervisor. “You are prioritizing one night of noise in a neighborhood over the lives of our city dwelling neighbors in Monroe County and claim that the noise of the protest caused ‘terrifying fear and anxiety.’”
“Entitlement and redlining at its finest. This column makes me sick. Lifetime Webster resident here with two school-age kids. It's not the protesters that scare me, it's our leadership,” Robyn Peterson also publicly commented.
Mary Zicari grew up in the City of Rochester, but moved to Webster five years ago to care for her aging parents. Her father taught at Webster High (Schroeder and Thomas) for 30 years. She attended a local protest against police brutality when the news first broke about George Floyd.
“If I were in town this past weekend, I would have been with the 100 people who protested outside Sandra Doorley’s home,” Zacari told the editor of the Webster Herald and Webster Online.
Zicari says the “Black Lives Matter” movement is “a beautiful community-built, community-led, educational, and loving movement centered around lifting up Black people while seeking justice and an end to racist policies, practices, and institutions.”
Zicari emphasizes that the movement is not “against White lives.”
“‘Black Lives Matter’ is against White supremacy,” said Zicari. “However, White supremacy is so ingrained into our culture, and delicately woven into our psyche, that we often fail to see the difference.”
As for the particular protest that occurred in Webster on Oct. 2, Zicari counters the supervisor’s argument that it should have been handled differently.
“Protest comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Zicari. “There is no right or wrong way to do it. The goal of protest is to bring attention to the issue at hand; it is often designed to inconvenience and agitate.”
She added, “Trust me, people have better things they could be doing, but when your life and liberty (or the life and liberty of people you care about) is in the balance, then protest is what you’re doing on a Friday night. And that is what the people were doing in Webster last Friday. And from Tom Flaherty’s article, it appeared to have worked; it appeared to have inconvenienced and agitated.”
In his response to a request for comment, Supervisor Flaherty said he does not regret the theme of his controversial column.
“Residential neighborhoods are not the proper venue in my opinion for such events,” the supervisor reiterated. “My only regret is that I should have considered certain words I used in the article that have been interpreted by some to think it makes me a racist.”
Many people took particular offense to the supervisor’s remarks in his column about the protestors coming from the other side of the Bay Bridge, and his statement, “My guess is that few if any of the attendees live in Webster... and frankly I'm not sure how many actually live in Monroe County.”
Some people say these remarks imply that the protestors do not reside or belong in Webster. They say his column screams “White privilege” and contains “racist tropes.”
“My intent was that it was factual,” Supervisor Flaherty clarified. “The connotation to some was that it meant from the city. I would have made the statement ‘coming west down 104 in cars’ if in fact the protestors started in Sodus.”
The supervisor was asked if the backlash from such a large number of people has given him any second thoughts about writing his column.
“No,” Supervisor Flaherty replied. “The rational people who initially voiced their opposition to the post I have been able to talk with and/or set up meetings with.”
Supervisor Flaherty says there have been a number of “irrational people” who “either left anonymous rant phone messages and/or, when I reached out to their phone message or email trying to enter into a dialogue, wanted NOTHING to do with that.”
“They had ‘broad brushed’ me and anything further was not going to fit their narrative/agenda,” the supervisor said.
Supervisor Flaherty was then asked what he thinks about the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
“I am NOT a fan of the organization ‘Black Lives Matter,’” he replied. “I am a fan of social justice and racial equality. BLM as an ‘organization,’ its agenda, how they are funded, how they use good intentioned people as pawns, etc. is something in my opinion that is both a) impressive in its structure and b) reprehensible in the deceptive tactics they utilize to garner support from well intentioned people.”
Kenny Doohan isn’t from Webster; he grew up in the Town of Greece for 32 years, but recently bought his first home in Spencerport/Gates. He was one of the many angered by the supervisor’s column.
“No political advocate should show any signs of racism,” Doohan shared with the editor of the Herald and Webster Online.
Zicari says she was “shocked and appalled” by the supervisor’s column.
“His characterization of outsiders (‘frankly I’m not sure how many actually live in Monroe County’), of ‘gangland rules of intimidation and threats,’ of a neighbor ‘not mov[ing] to Webster to endure things like this’ are classic racist tropes,” said Zicari.
Zicari also says there was a lot missing from the supervisor’s column.
“Not once did he mention Daniel Prude’s violent death or the cover up that involves Sandra Doorley in her public role as D.A.,” said Zicari. “Not once did he acknowledge that there is real pain and suffering at the root of these protests. Nor did he acknowledge systemic problems in our local policing and ‘justice’ system that are bringing people out in droves to call for change.”
Some people have said the supervisor should only share his personal feelings about the issue on his personal Facebook page, and that he should not have used the town’s official media platforms to express his controversial opinion.
“Those people have their opinion and I respect people's opinion,” said the supervisor. “My opinion is that if leaders DON'T speak out about their opinions, they are not leaders. The saying goes... ‘If you don't stand for something, what will you fall for?’”
Supervisor Flaherty believes it is unfair that he has been targeted for expressing his opinion.
“Freedom of speech is a coveted right of American citizens,” he said. “Protestors who run such events in residential neighborhoods say it is their right of free speech and that they should not be questioned. I write a post that should be my right of free speech and I get threatening calls, e-mails, and essentially blasted by people for doing it.”
Some people agree with the supervisor that the protest was unnecessarily intimidating and unwarranted.
“Sounds like disturbing the peace and intimidation to me,” said Webster resident Thomas Wiederhold in a public comment about the protest on the supervisor’s Facebook post. “I don't care what the reason is, this action is wrong. It is nothing more than trying to force one's will on others.”
“WE ALL deserve peace and quiet in the sanctity of our homes,” Sandy Leary commented when the Webster Herald reposted the supervisor’s column on its Facebook page. “That said… those [who] feel the need to protest, do it outside her office, but NOT in front of her home!!!!”
The editor of the Herald and Webster Online tried reaching out to those who live in the neighborhood who were upset by the protest, to go on the record with their opinions. They either declined to comment or did not respond out of fear of backlash from the other side, and some have even deleted their comments on the supervisor’s post.
Supervisor Flaherty writes that he is working with the Webster Police Department and other law enforcement “to devise a strategy on ‘how to handle these things in the future.’”
The supervisor clarifies in his column that he is not against a “planned” protest during the day.
He writes, “A daytime, planned ‘protest/march’ at the Webster Village Park just north of 250 and Main Street a few months ago is a far different ‘event’ than a surprise, unpublicized, in the dark on a residential street event that occurred last Friday night.”
This is not the first time the Webster town supervisor has written about a “Black Lives Matter” issue. For instance, he wrote about it in a Sept. 10 column, which can be read on the town’s website. Supervisor Flaherty first wrote about “Black Lives Matter” in his June 3, 2020 column, “Walking a Mile in a Fellow Human's Shoes.”
“On a ‘Webster-centric’ note,” he wrote in his conclusion, “At the end of the day, it is important to remember we are all one Webster community. We need to support and lift up our neighbors and value what each of us brings to this town.”
It appears that some Webster voters are surprised that the same supervisor who wrote those previous columns also wrote the most recent one.
Webster voter Mary Ruebens commented on the Herald’s repost of the supervisor’s controversial Oct. 7, 2020 column: “Respectfully, I thought I elected someone more open minded. I feel as though your personal relationship with the D.A. and her family is impacting your view on this. Please set aside your personal views on the matter.”
In Zicari’s opinion, the supervisor missed a perfect opportunity to ignite change in the Webster community.
“Sadly, he did not even consider that this was an opportunity to call on our town to do some of the necessary work to become anti-racist,” said Zicari. “He failed at this test of leadership by failing to call on Webster residents to recognize, acknowledge, and then unlearn the reasons why those neighbors were in such fear of this peaceful protest.”
The editor reached out to Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, who declined to comment at this time. The editor also reached out to the Free the People Roc community, but has not received a response at the time of writing this article.
A second “Black Lives Matter” protest took place in Webster at the corner of Hard and Ridge roads on Friday, Oct. 9. Another took place on Oct. 12, during which Webster police, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and New York State Police showed up, arresting some protestors for disorderly conduct. This story is in development.
PLEASE NOTE: The editor of the Webster Online did her best to speak with as many people on either side of this issue to the best of her ability in a timely fashion. If you feel your side has not been fully represented publicly, please reach out to the editor via the Contact Form, and specify whether you want to offer comment on the record and/or share a “letter to the editor” outlining your side of the story.