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NYC Councilmember Defends Puerto Rican Day Parade Honoring Oscar López Rivera

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Upon the release of longtime political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade organizers have chosen to honor Rivera as the parade’s first “National Freedom Hero.” This prompted the city’s police chief to boycott the event. “You shouldn’t be telling people who their heroes should or shouldn’t be,” responds Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges including seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico. In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of the FALN, but López Rivera refused to accept the deal because it didn’t include two fellow activists, who have since been released. In January, President Obama commuted Oscar López Rivera’s sentence. He was finally freed earlier this month.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to change the topic slightly on another issue that you’ve been dealing with in City Council, which is the soon-to-be-coming annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. There’s been a lot of controversy raised over the fact that the parade leaders have decided to honor Oscar López Rivera, who just was released from prison, after more than three decades in prison, by President Obama. And I wanted to get your sense, because I know the City Council has had to take a stand, now that some companies have said they’re not going to participate in the parade and now that the police chief of New York City has said he will not participate in the parade, either.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Well, that’s not a slight change, it’s a complete change, in discussion.


JUMAANE WILLIAMS: But I plan on being there. I wasn’t planning, until I started getting tweets asking me not to go. I was proud to support the speaker in her support of Oscar López. It’s always interesting to me. One, he hasn’t been associated with any violent acts. But it’s always interesting to me that people believe, when folks are fighting for their freedoms or fighting for equity and justice, that they can just write a letter asking for those things, and they’re just given to them. There has been no social justice, no equity, no freedoms given anywhere in this world, I think, in time immemorial, that hasn’t been given or taken without some kind of pressures. And we celebrate those things when we look back. But during the time period, we pretend that these people are crazy and don’t know what they’re talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance, Juan, for people who aren’t familiar with Oscar López Rivera’s case, of him coming to New York?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the significance—he just was released about a week ago, finally, from a home detention, after being released from prison and then sent into detention in Puerto Rico, and he immediately went to Chicago, his hometown, where he was welcomed as a hero.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmembers and all were there?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, all of the—many of the Latino elected officials. And now, of course, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which is in two weeks, is the largest gathering of Puerto Ricans in the United States. And the significance of him coming to New York City after spending more than 30 years in prison—there’s clearly a lot of controversy. There were more people who were in favor of him being freed from prison, even if they didn’t agree with his beliefs, than are saying that he should be welcomed as a hero. But still, the decision of the parade committee is an opportunity for the people to have free speech.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: And you shouldn’t be telling people who their heroes should or shouldn’t be. Again, he, himself, was never associated with any violence. And don’t forget, Nelson Mandela was listed as a terrorist well into the 20th century. So, there’s a big—depending on which side you sit, usually if you’re on the side with the power and privilege, you kind of view these things a little differently.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Jumaane Williams, for being with us, New York city councilmember for District 45 in Brooklyn. His district of Flatbush, East Flatbush, represents the—well, he says the largest population of Haitians in this country.

And that does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Mike DiFilippo, and a belated happy birthday to Simin Farkhondeh.

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