City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito flew to Puerto Rico earlier this month to welcome home Oscar Lopez Rivera, whose 70-year federal sentence was commuted in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Considered a hero by many Puerto Ricans, Lopez Rivera was released from federal prison after serving 35 years for his role in a Puerto Rican separatist or terrorist group (choose your term) that carried out more than 100 bombings nationwide in the 1970s and ’80s.
In 1975, Lopez Rivera’s group, known by its Spanish acronym FALN, attacked Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, killing four people and injuring more than 40. And in 1982, the group bombed Police Plaza, blinding and disfiguring two officers.
A story rattling around Police Plaza is that Mark-Viverito told the cops who accompanied her to Puerto Rico to pick up Lopez Rivera and drive him in her car. They reportedly refused because of his connection to violence, upsetting the speaker. Meanwhile, the story goes, the detail alerted superiors in the NYPD Intelligence Division, who backed the decision. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the incident.
“Never happened,” said Mark-Viverito. “Somebody’s telling you a story.”
One of her representatives said that while she paid for her plane ticket “to minimize expense to the city,” she was there in her official capacity, which explained the NYPD detail.
True or apocryphal, the cop story reflects the bad blood that the name Oscar Lopez Rivera generates at the NYPD. He is to be honored June 11 at the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade as its “national freedom hero,” a designation that has made city officials look ridiculous. “We have to look at the widespread and disproportionate sentence to an individual that was not linked to any act of violence that hurt or killed anyone,” Mark-Viverito said.
After saying he would march in the parade with Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Jim O’Neill reversed himself last week. O’Neill bailed after the department’s Hispanic Society, whose members comprise nearly 30 percent of the force, announced it would boycott the parade. Other police societies are skipping the parade, too.
Some have called the mayor’s decision to march smart politics. But others at Police Plaza used an epithet describe his decision.