Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski refuses to resign over Puerto Rican remark

Published Thursday, December 22, 2011
By Diane Lederman, The Republican

Easthampton City Councilor Donald L. Cykowski, left, is seen in this composite photo with Springfield NAACP president, the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II.

EASTHAMPTON – City Councilor Donald L. Cykowski said he has no intentions of resigning over a comment that he made two weeks ago about Puerto Ricans, for which he apologized on Wednesday night.

“I thought my apology was enough,” he said Thursday. When questioned about the sincerity of the apology because of how it was phrased, he said, “I’m not quite a wordsmith that some people would want. I tried to be as brief as (possible).”

At Wednesday night’s council meeting, he said, “I made a statement (at the Dec. 7 meeting). If I offended anyone I apologize.”


Springfield NAACP President Talbert Swan blasts Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski for ‘racist’ remark about Puerto Ricans

Published December 22, 2011
By Conor Berry

Republican file photo: Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski, shown here at a candidates forum this year, apologized at Wednesday's council meeting for a remark he made about Puerto Ricans at a Dec. 7 meeting.

SPRINGFIELD – The Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, has called on Easthampton officials to censure City Councilor Donald L. Cykowski for disparaging Puerto Ricans, the dominant Hispanic ethnic group in Western Massachusetts, for a remark made at a Dec. 7 City Council meeting.

Cykowski asked “Where’s a Puerto Rican when we need one?” after colleague and fellow councilor-at-large Ronald D. Chateauneuf left the meeting room and was unable to reenter when the door locked behind him.

Cykowski later apologized for the comment, which Swan characterized as a “racist” remark that should not be tolerated by Easthampton officials.

Swan said that Cykowski, as an elected official, “should consider resigning from public office, as he would be unfit to effectively serve his constituents.”

Swan, as leader of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, issued a statement early Thursday urging Easthampton leaders to “strongly condemn such actions and (to) censure” Cykowski, who made a public apology at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.


Springfield NAACP branch issues position paper calling for mandatory independent investigations of all city police shootings

By Greg Saulmon, The Republican, December 16, 2011

 SPRINGFIELD — The local branch of the NAACP on Friday issued a “position paper” calling for mandatory independentinvestigations of all police-involved shootings, a day after renewing its request for an outside probe into the November death of a city teenager after a confrontation with officers responding to a stolen car report.

“We feel strongly that any time an officer discharges his firearm and it results in the death of a citizen of our city, or a serious injury, that independent eyes should look at that particular case,” said Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the NAACP’s Springfield branch. Swan spoke during a press conference at Spring of Hope Church on Alden Street, where he serves as a pastor.


Voting Rights March in NYC Draws Springfield, MA Contingent

Published: Saturday, December 10, 2011, 10:20 PM Updated: Saturday, December 10, 2011, 10:46 PM By The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Civil rights activists protested stricter voting laws

Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, and other members of the organization, join a voting rights march in New York City Saturday.

Saturday with a march from the New York offices of Koch Industries, whose owners have supported an organization that favors tighter safeguards against election fraud. “You can’t accomplish anything if you’re not prepared to fight,” said U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, wearing a hat with embroidered with “NAACP.” Rangel and other labor leaders and politicians said they wanted to roll back new voting rules passed in several states. From Springfield, Mass., the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II said he brought 45 people by bus to join the “Stand for Freedom” protest. “The local branch wanted to show its support in the effort to relieve the country of voter suppression. .¤.¤. We wanted to aid in that effort, to stand for freedom for our voting rights,” said Swan, president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP and pastor of the Spring Hope Church of God in Christ in that city.


Rev. Talbert Swan to address ‘inflammatory comments’ linked to police shooting case

By Conor Berry, The Republican, November 14, 2011

Talbet Swan, left, and Tahiem Goffe.
SPRINGFIELD — The Rev. Talbert Swan II, pastor of The Spring of Hope Church Of God In Christ, said he plans to discuss his call for an independent probe into a recent fatal police shooting of an alleged car thief and subsequent “inflammatory comments” posted on MassLive, the website of The Republican.
Swan said the issues will be discussed on his “Spoken Word” radio program on WTCC 90.7 FM on Monday at 9 a.m.
On Friday, Swan, Springfield branch president of the NAACP, voiced support for an independent probe into the shooting of 18-year-old Tahiem Goffe by Springfield police.
Officer Matthew Benoit and other officers pursued Goffe as he drove a stolen car on Taylor Street early on the morning of Nov. 6, police said. After cruisers caught up with the stolen vehicle, Goffe drove directly at officers, striking and injuring Benoit, police said. Benoit fired his gun in self-defense, police said.
The Springfield Police Department is conducting an internal review of the incident, and Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni has pledged to “review the police investigation.” State police ballistics investigators also will participate in the review, Mastroianni said.


Your Comments: Readers react to NAACP president Talbert Swan’s call for indpendent probe into police shooting of suspected car thief accused of running down officer

By Conor Berry, The Republican, November 13, 2011

Talbet Swan, left, and Tahiem Goffe.

SPRINGFIELD — Frantic calls of “shots fired,” followed quickly by reports of a gunshot victim and an officer down, elicited a swift response from Springfield police during the wee hours of Nov. 6.
When the dust settled on Taylor Street, an 18-year-old driving a stolen car was shot once by police, who claimed the teen struck and injured an officer while attempting to mow down cops with a sedan.
The Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, Springfield branch president of the NAACP, has called for an “independent investigation” into the shooting of Tahiem Goffe, who later died from his gunshot wound.
Swan said the local NAACP chapter “is requesting an independent investigation to ensure that proper police procedures were employed and that the investigation will not be compromised.”
Police officials said the officer involved in the shooting acted in self-defense, or as Springfield Police Department spokesman Sgt. John M. Delaney put it, the officer fired “to possibly save his life.”
Meanwhile, Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni has pledged to review the shooting to determine if the officer’s use of lethal force was justified. “My policy is to review all police shootings,” Mastroianni said last week.
The Springfield Police Department Detective Bureau is doing an internal investigation, and a Massachusetts State Police ballistics team is looking at the evidence, according to Mastroianni. “We will review the police investigation,” the district attorney said.
At a minimum, Swan has said that he hopes the results of Mastroianni’s review are transparent and made available to the public.


Springfield NAACP President Talbert W. Swan II outlines priorities

Springfield Republican, September 24, 2011

SPRINGFIELD – Following the June 28 election that brought new officers into the fold, the Springfield branch of the NAACP is focusing its attention on five key areas to promote its agenda of equality.

At a short press conference before the dedication of the New Macedonia Church of God in Christ, the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, the newly elected president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, said the group will be taking a renewed focus on education, health, economic empowerment, political action and social justice advocacy.

Swan said the group will work with city school officials to reduce the dropout rate, improve failing schools, increase parent participation in the education process and recruit black educators.

Among the items on the group’s health agenda are plans to reach out to the community and healthcare organizations to “reduce the disparities in health between the majority community and people of color,” Swan said.

Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Springfield Branch of the NAACP. (Republican Photo/ Mark M.Murray)

He also said the group plans to work on a community awareness campaign to educate the black community about proper healthcare and to work hand-in-hand with the Food Justice Coalition to increase access to healthy foods.


Springfield NAACP president Talbert Swan calls for investigation into shooting death of Tahiem Goffe

 Springfield Republican – Friday, November 11, 2011

The Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, Springfield branch president of the NAACP, Friday called for an independent investigation of the shooting death of 18-year-old Tahiem Goffe.

The teenager died of injuries inflicted by a gunshot wound in the wake of a Nov. 6 confrontation with police, who said Goffe was behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle when he attempted to run down an officer.


A New Pulpit

A New Pulpit

The Rev. Talbert Swan II aims to refocus the Springfield NAACP on tough issues.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Photo Courtesy NAACP Springfield
Rev. Talbert Swan, president of the NAACP, Springfield Branch


The NAACP has a venerable history: founded 102 years ago by a multiracial group that included legendary figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, the organization has led the charge against voter discrimination, segregation and lynching, and for civil rights and justice in areas like education, government and the economy.

Today, according to the national office, the organization has about half a million members and more than 2,200 branches across the U.S. and in Japan and Germany.

They include a Springfield branch that was founded in 1918. But over the years, the branch’s activity level has waxed and waned, with periods of high involvement in city affairs, and periods when it’s existed more or less on paper only.

But now the chapter is gearing up for a resurgence, following the election of a new president last month. The Rev. Talbert Swan II, a long-time city activist, was chosen to lead the group at the June 28 election, when he handily defeated rival Charles Stokes by a three-to-one margin.

Swan and his fellow officers (including vice presidents Candice Lopes, Ida Flynn and Justine Williams) will be inaugurated on Sept. 18 at the Spring of Hope Church, where Swan is pastor. But he’s already beginning the work of getting the branch re-engaged in the life of the city, to “revitalize it and make it viable and relevant,” as he recently told the Advocate.

Swan first ran for the NAACP presidency 15 years ago. At the time, the minister was engaged in a number of high-profile battles with City Hall and the Springfield Police Department about issues of deep importance to the city’s African-American community, including police misconduct and inequities within city government. Swan’s outspokenness and insistence on accountability from city leaders made him a force to be reckoned with—and also apparently made him, in the eyes of some of the more faint-heartened members of the chapter, too controversial a figure to lead the group. In the end, Swan lost the election to Darnell Williams.

(Williams went on to serve as president of the NAACP’s New England Area Conference and is now president of the Urban League of Eastern Mass. Most recently, he’s been battling with Boston Mayor Tom Menino over a proposal to build a Walmart in the Roxbury neighborhood. Menino has voiced concern over Walmart’s poor reputation as an employer—the company is regularly criticized for low wages, skimpy benefits and a discriminatory promotions system—and the potential effects the store would have on small, local businesses. Williams—whose organization, not incidentally, has received $40,000 in donations from Walmart over the past couple of years—has told the Boston Business Journal the city should “embrace a project that would bring jobs for residents.”)

Swan’s list of priority issues for the NAACP to take on begins with the city schools. “If the numbers tell the story, our public school system is failing,” he said bluntly. While the statewide high school graduation rate has risen in recent years (figures from 2010 show 82.1 percent of Massachusetts’ students graduated within four years), Springfield’s rate has declined. Those same 2010 figures show only 53 percent of the city’s high schoolers graduated within four years, down from 54.5 percent in 2009. Springfield has the second-lowest graduation rate in the commonwealth, just below Holyoke—although that city has seen its graduation rates rise in recent years.

Those abysmal statistics are particularly relevant to the city’s African-American and Latino students, who together account for 79 percent of the system’s total population of just over 25,000. According to state Department of Education figures from the 2009-2010 school year, the dropout rate for the city’s Hispanic students was 12.4 percent. The rate for multi-racial, non-Hispanic students was 9.3 percent; for black students, 8.5 percent; for white students, 8.4 percent.

The Springfield school system’s truancy, absentee and suspension rates also exceed the statewide rate. Ten public schools in the city (out of 35 total across the state) are classified by the DOE as “Level 4” schools, a designation meaning they are “underperforming” based on MCAS scores. Swan’s son will start this fall in the talented and gifted program at one of those schools, Chestnut Middle School; it’s a sign of the school’s struggles, he noted, that even with the scores of those gifted students in the average, Chestnut still qualifies as underperforming.

“Our education system is failing miserably, so that’s going to be a key focus of the branch: How do we address the problems in public education, and how do we hold the administration, from the School Committee to the principals to the superintendent, accountable for how they educate our children?” he said. Also on Swan’s list: addressing the race-based disparities in the public heath of the city. People of color, he noted, have higher infant mortality rates than others, and higher rates of such conditions as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and cancer. In addition, he added, there’s the problem of environmental racism, the extra public health burdens borne by communities of color, from the location of toxic industries to the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables because of limited access to grocery stores in their neighborhoods.

The morning he spoke to the Advocate, Swan said, he had just come from a meeting with Commissioner William Fitchet of the Springfield Police Department, where they discussed the recent wave of violent crime in the city and the SPD’s response. “I look at all of that through two lenses,” Swan said. “One, I understand the need for aggressive policing when it comes down to taking the violent element off the street. There are certain folks who may need ministry, but they need a jail ministry. There are certain people that need to be taken off the streets.

“At the same time, everything needs to be done with proper police procedures, and with respect for the people in the community,” he continued. “We can definitely support the department in terms of using proper police procedure.” What the NAACP cannot support, Swan added, is institutional protection of rogue cops. “The unfortunate reality,” he said, “is that no matter how diligent police brass intend to be in proper policing in the community, there’s always going to be an element within the department that’s going to police the way they want to police. That’s the issue I challenge the commissioner to deal with. … He has to be vigilant in weeding out those officers”—both the “knuckleheads” who abuse their power and the colleagues who look away when they see it happening.

“I’m more than willing to explain to the community that there are processes that have to take place” when dealing with an officer accused of abuse, Swan said—but the department needs to be serious about dealing with them. Ideally, in Swan’s view, that process would include a community police review board with real powers. Prior to 2005, the city had a mayoral-appointed Police Commission with disciplinary powers. The commission was dissolved under the Ryan administration; since then, the hole has been filled by various civilian review boards, which, despite occasional tweakings, have never had the powers held by the old commission. Rather, the new boards have served in an “advisory” role to Fitchet, who, under his contract, is the sole disciplinary authority in the SPD.

“I’ve made no bones about the fact that I do not support the current structure of the complaint review board,” Swan said. The board, he maintains, should have statutory authority to discipline officers, and should be independent from the City Hall administration. As with the old commission, the mayor appoints all members of the current review board; while Swan doesn’t oppose the mayor’s having a few appointments, he believes there should be a community process for electing the others, perhaps through neighborhood councils.

Howerver, none of those kinds of changes can take place without community involvement—something, Swan said, he’s not seeing enough of. “While I’ve been critical of the mayor and his administration in terms of the group they put together … I’ve also been critical of the community, in terms of its lack of response,” he said. He pointed, for example, to the low turnout at a series of community forums held last year by Ward 4 Councilor Henry Twiggs, chair of a special Council committee on police oversight, to solicit public input about the review board.

“They really got a poor response from the community,” said Swan; at one meeting, only two people showed up: Swan, and Perman Glenn III, a civil rights attorney who died earlier this year. “Here you have a community meeting, and you get me and an attorney who show up,” Swan said. “That sends a message to the mayor and the administration that the community is not as concerned about this as Rev. Swan and Attorney Glenn—may he rest in peace—make it out to be.”

As the NAACP’s new leader, one of Swan’s tasks will be to inspire more of the kind of community involvement that was missing during the oversight board review process. Swan is confident that getting people to join the Springfield NAACP won’t be a problem; the branch, he said, has more than 200 lifetime members, and the organization can do a better job reminding those with annual memberships to renew each year.

“Membership should not actually be a problem,” he said. “It’s how leadership keeps those people engaged.”


New Springfield NAACP President Talbert W. Swan II seeks branch resurgence

SPRINGFIELD – The Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, the newly elected president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, said Thursday he anticipates a resurgence in the branch and expanded efforts to fight for improved education, health and social justice for communities of color. The election of Swan, pastor of the Spring Hope Church of God in Christ, was the first contested presidential election in more than a decade for the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Swan received 77 percent of the ballots cast to win over Charles Stokes, a community activist and former City Council candidate.

Swan, a civil rights and community activist, said it is “no secret” that the branch has not been as active in past years as it should be, and was dormant for some time before 2009.