I used to think Melissa Mark-Viverito was smart. Recently I have come to re-evaluate my judgment of her basic intelligence, however. Maybe because she went to an Ivy League school, or because I was taken in by her supercilious manner, I “took her for her better,” as Hamlet said in a different context. But lately she has given me cause for doubt.
The first time was about a month or so ago when I asked her what she thought about council members blocking traffic to protest some cause—a higher minimum wage or something. Mark-Viverito said she approved of civil disobedience as a means of protest, and proudly said she had done it many times: “I engage in that kind of First Amendment way of expressing yourself.”
You see the problem? She doesn’t understand the difference between free speech and civil disobedience. The First Amendment protects free speech. Civil disobedience is illegal behavior that a protestor commits to make a statement.
As I wrote in the Post,
Mark-Viverito shows a deep, fundamental confusion about the meaning of civil disobedience. By definition, civil disobedience isn’t protected under the First Amendment. That’s why you get arrested for it.
If blocking traffic counted as protected speech, it wouldn’t be a crime — and it wouldn’t be civil disobedience. The problem is that elected professional radicals like Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander are so accustomed to not being punished for their civil disobedience that they no longer understand what it means.
You can’t fault her for not understanding the difference. Our society is so open and free that virtually no form of respectable dissent is ever punished--as long as the underlying cause is not “hateful,” in the technical sense. Blocking traffic, invading office buildings, chaining yourself to a post…does anyone get punished for this sort of thing? Not really. Most civil disobedience nowadays is a sham.
Maybe this softness is what leads someone like Melissa Mark-Viverito, who went to all the best schools, to believe that Oscar Lopez Rivera has been imprisoned for his beliefs. At her press conference the other day, following the commutation of his sentence, I asked her if she plans to continue the fight to get him a full pardon. Since she believes that he shouldn’t have been in jail at all, and that he is a political prisoner, doesn’t it make sense that he should be totally exonerated?
The Speaker appeared baffled by my question. “He’s coming out, he’s got unconditional release once he comes out,” she said, apparently unaware of the difference between clemency and pardon. Oscar Lopez Rivera is still considered legally guilty of all his crimes.
Mark-Viverito repeated at length her belief that Lopez Rivera was wrongly imprisoned. “He is not directly linked to any act of violence… the disproportionate length of time he has served, strictly for his political beliefs…..He has not been accused, as I have indicated, of any act of violence, and that needs to be clear, etc. etc.”
I don’t know at this point if Melissa Mark-Viverito is legitimately stupid, or if she is just acting in wickedly bad faith by refusing to look at the facts of Lopez Rivera’s case, but the facts are clear. Oscar Lopez Rivera by his own admission was a leader of a group that called itself the “Armed Forces of National Liberation.” This organization claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and early 80s: these bombings actually killed six people and wounded dozens of others. Lopez Rivera had an apartment that was filled with equipment for making bombs, and he taught people how to make bombs.
He was found guilty of multiple firearms violations, in addition to the main charge of seditious conspiracy. People who say that “conspiracy” means “nothing really happened” don’t understand how federal law operates. Conspiracy charges are not proffered in the absence of evidence: they describe massive criminal enterprises with overwhelming evidence of mutual involvement.
If Mark-Viverito believes that Lopez Rivera and the rest of the FALN were innocent, then who bombed all those buildings in their name? It reminds me of OJ Simpson vowing to find Nicole’s and Ron Goldman’s killer.
When dupes like Melissa Mark-Viverito or hardened liars like Bill de Blasio insist on Lopez Rivera’s innocence because he was “only” convicted of seditious conspiracy, they sound exactly like the types of people who admire Charles Manson, and who point out that “Manson was never accused of killing anyone.” In fact, Manson’s fans have a better case to make, because while Manson ordered the Tate-LaBianca murders, he apparently wasn’t present when they occurred. But Oscar Lopez Rivera was actually involved in making and setting the bombs that terrorized New York and Chicago, and which killed and maimed people.
I’m done talking about Oscar Lopez Rivera, unless Melissa Mark-Viverito brings him on a victory tour of City Hall: I actually wouldn’t put it past her to bring him to lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the site of George Washington’s famous goodbye speech to his officers, and the locus of the FALN’s most deadly bombing. The guy isn’t the first murderer to get out of prison. Maybe 35 years was long enough. I just think it is weird that the Speaker of the NYC Council spent so much of her and the city’s time working to free someone who actually placed bombs here.
Happy Inauguration Day, everybody!