Some Brooklyn residents are ramping up the fight to free a man held in federal prison for more than three decades for his actions to help win independence for Puerto Rico. Ny1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
United in their struggle, this group packed a Sunset Park church Monday night, calling for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera. It's a rally cry strong on the island of Puerto Rico and gaining momentum locally. Helping lead the charge is his brother, Jose Lopez Rivera.
"We want to get really deep in the Puerto Rican communities.We want to spread it to the Latino community and obviously to our African American brothers and sisters," Rivera said.
Lopez Rivera has served more than 32 years in prison because of his ties to the FALN, a 1980's group that set off more than 100 bombs in its efforts to win independence for Puerto Rico. But Lopez Rivera was never convicted of any violent act himself.
Elected leaders City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez showed their support. Church leadership say this is a social justice issue.
"Oscar Lopez Rivera simply wants the independence of his country that is not a crime," said Rev. Sam Cruz, Senior Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church.
In 1999, Lopez Rivera refused President Bill Clinton's offer of clemency because at the time other Puerto Rican nationalists were also in prison. Now he's the last one left. His brother drew comparisons to former political prisoner Nelson Mandela.
"Oscar was given the same sentence of Nelson Mandela, seditious conspiracy, and it's interesting that people proclaim and rightly so the heroic presence and persistence of Mandela. I think it's about time people understand the correlation and parallels between my brother and Mandela," Rivera said.
"We never forget about the systemic context under which we struggle. And that's why I'm here, because I want the world to know that Oscar Lopez Rivera is my brother," said author and activist Dr. Cornel West.
Those who attended the rally signed petitions asking for a pardon. The goal is to collect 100,000 of the petitions addressed to President Obama and to deliver them before May, when Lopez Rivera will mark 33 years behind bars.