NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill is refusing to march in next month’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, which will honor pardoned political prisoner and nationalist Oscar Lòpez Rivera.
“I usually do march in most of the parades with the fraternal organizations, but I am not going to be marching this year,” said O’Neill, who described Lòpez Rivera as a “terrorist.”
“I cannot support a man who is a co-founder of an organization that engaged in over 120 bombings,” he added.
Lòpez Rivera, a prominent member of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or FALN, spent more than 30 years behind bars for the transportation of explosives with intent to kill and injure innocent people and to destroy government property, among other charges, according to The New York Daily News. The Vietnam War veteran was never charged with committing any violence, however.
During the 1970s and ’80s, FALN claimed responsibility for over 120 bombings at federal buildings, restaurants and stores across NYC and other cities, including a 1982 blast at an NYPD headquarters that left an officer severely maimed. The independence group also was responsible for a 1975 attack that killed four people at Fraunces Tavern in New York City’s Financial District, the New York Post reported.
In January, former President Barack Obama commuted Lòpez Rivera’s prison sentence shortly before leaving office. The 74-year-old ex-militant had spent 36 years in jail.
O’Neill isn’t the only one boycotting the annual parade, however. Event sponsors JetBlue, AT&T, Goya Foods and the New York Yankees have all pulled their support from the event over parade organizers’ plans to bestow its first “National Freedom Hero award” to Lòpez Rivea.
“While we celebrate Puerto Ricans and their rich heritage, we have decided to withdraw our sponsorship of this year’s parade,” AT&T said in a statement.
While the Yankees said they wouldn’t participate in this year’s parade, the organization said it would continue supporting the scholarship program recognizing students selected by event organizers.
“To best protect the interests of those students and avoid any undue harm to them, the Yankees will continue to provide financial support for the scholarships and will give to the students directly,” the organization said in a statement.
The New York Fire Department’s Officers Union and FDNY Hispanic Society also have refused to participate.
Event organizers argued that López Rivera’s participation in the parade, which draws more than 1 million people each year, is “not an endorsement of the history that led to his arrest,” but rather “a recognition of a man and a nation’s struggle for sovereignty.”