National Puerto Rican Day Parade to Honor Political Prisoner
With new leadership, the 57th annual parade will be able to celebrate a long-awaited honoree.
Oscar López Rivera is in the middle of his 70-year prison sentence.
He was convicted as part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that was responsible for a series of bombings in the 1970's and 80's, but Rivera himself didn't physically hurt anyone.
His supporters, like National Puerto Rican Parade board member Orlando Plaza, said Rivera's punishment doesn't match the crime.
“As long as one man remains incarcerated for his beliefs and not for any violent crime committed,” said Plaza, “then no one here in this room is free.”
Rivera’s supporters and parade members have been trying to honor him for serving what they call an unjust prison sentence, but parade leaders at the time denied their request. After several board members were ousted for mismanaging funds, the parade has new leadership this year.
Activist Ramón Jiménez said the new board helped the Puerto Rican people reclaim their parade.
"The parade belongs to the people," he said. "It doesn't belong to somebody who's robbing and stealing. It belongs so we can express our pride, so we can say, 'Free Oscar López Rivera."
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito - the first Puerto Rican to hold the position – said this is a victory for the Puerto Rican community.
"The fact that we have a parade this year dedicated to Oscar when it's something that has been asked in the past and had been denied really speaks to where we're at," she said.
Supporters will be aiming to collect 1000,000 signatures during the parade as part of a petition to release Rivera.The parade will march along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 79th Street in Manhattan.