Woman who climbed Statue of Liberty to protest family separations is arrested

Therese Patricia Okoumou was protesting family separations at the US-Mexico border. 

Kimberley Richards
New York
Thursday 05 July 2018 22:12
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Protester climbs Statue of Liberty on Independence Day

A woman who climbed the base of the Statute of Liberty on US Independence Day in protest of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy, has been charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and interference with governmental administration.

The activist, identified as Therese Patricia Okoumou, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who is said to have lived in New York for at least a decade, appeared in court to be formally charged.

Video footage of the incident, revealed Ms Okoumou was wearing a T-shirt that read “Trumpcare Makes Us Sick,” as she sat on the base of the historic monument. Ms Okoumou reportedly told police officers she was protesting family separations at the US-Mexico border.

Ms Okoumou’s T-shirt featured the logo for Rise and Resist, a nonprofit organisation created after the 2016 US presidential election in response to Mr Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric. The group, with which Ms Okoumou is affiliated, has called for the abolishment of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and has led campaigns in objection to family separation practices.

According to the New York Times, Ms Okoumou starting climbing the monument after 3pm, before she engaged in a standoff with police officers for roughly three hours. Eventually, officers were able to get her down. National Park Service officials told the Times they began evacuating some 4,500 people visiting the monument on Liberty Island, about 30 minutes after spotting Ms Okoumou.

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Shortly after news spread that Ms Okoumou had scaled the base of the statute, Rise and Resist released a statement confirming that Ms Okoumou’s actions were “made independently of the group, without consulting any other member of the group”.

Members of Rise and Resist were at the Statute of Liberty protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies by hanging a large banner reading “Abolish ICE”. The group faced a swift backlash on social media for seemingly detaching themselves from Ms Okoumou, something which the group has since clarified in a follow-up statement:

“On reflection, we realise that in our haste to complete the statement so that we could continue working to secure the best legal representation for Patricia, we unintentionally led people to believe that we were distancing the group from Patricia,” the statement read in part. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Patricia is our friend, our comrade, our sister.”

In court on Thursday, after a brief arraignment on the three charges, Magistrate Judge Ona Wang ordered Ms Okoumou to be released from federal custody.

Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney in Manhattan, called the hours-long protest a “dangerous stunt” that endangered lives.

“While we must and do respect the rights of the people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk,” Mr Berman said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Prior to Ms Okoumou’s protest, seven protesters were arrested for demonstrations, the Times reported. Rise and Resist indicated it had been working to secure legal representation for Ms Okoumou.

Rise and Resist did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The US Marshals office and the National Park Services did not immediately return The Independent’s request for comment.

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