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Viewpoint: Timothy Leary case offers a test of sincerity and forgiveness

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Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Greater Springfield NAACP, has given credit to Holyoke Fire Department officer Timothy Leary for the latter’s apology for a racial slur, perhaps opening the door to more conciliation, (Submitted photo)

Ron Chimelis | By Ron Chimelis |
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on October 02, 2014

In a culture where superficial political correctness and genuine bigotry are locked in daily battle, the case of Holyoke firefighter Timothy Leary looks like a drop in the bucket at first.

Leary’s case, though, is more important than that. It puts to the test the two competing elements of any such case: the matter of sincerity on the part of the embattled individual, and the level of forgiveness by a public that is served by him.

In 2012, Leary was caught on video, using a racial slur when referring to Holyoke City Council member Anthony Soto. The video became known to the public in February, inflaming a process in which Leary was in line to become a provisional lieutenant.

Leary and Soto have had a fractured history that dates to when Leary was president of the Holyoke Firefighters Association. That adds context to his attitude toward Soto, but in no way justifies the remark.

The incident brought a number of issues to the forefront: the video taping of a private conversation, the question of whether Leary could be trusted to protect Holyoke citizens if he truly disrespected a segment of them, and whether one comment should be used to judge a man whose official work record had been a good one.

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Holyoke firefighter Timothy Leary apologizes for racial slur in letter to Greater Springfield NAACP President Rev. Talbert Swan, Mayor Alex Morse

Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse, left, and the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Greater Springfield NAACP. ((FILE PHOTOS))

HOLYOKE — In a letter addressed to Mayor Alex B. Morse and Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Greater Springfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Timothy Leary apologized for his comments in a 2012 video.

The provisional Fire Department lieutenant made racially insensitive remarks regarding City Councilor Anthony Soto while off duty, speaking with owner of Hampshire Towing William Johnson in his South Hadley office.

The video came to light in February. On Aug. 8, Leary said he agreed to meet with the NAACP and Morse regarding his remarks.

Below is the full text of the letter, dated Sept. 26:

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