A woman who was arrested on Wednesday during a Fourth of July protest against the policies of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency after she attempted to climb the Statue of Liberty made an appearance in federal court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, appeared in federal court in New York City where she faced charges of misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, called her attempt to scale the Statue of Liberty “a dangerous stunt” that put lives in danger.
Okoumou pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and a federal Magistrate Judge Ona Wang released her without bail after the arraignment wrapped up. She walked out of court wearing a black shirt with white letters across the front that read, “White supremacy is terrorism.” She faces six months in prison for each charge. Outside the courthouse, she briefly addressed reporters and reading from a prepared statement, said, “In a democracy we do not put children in cages. The judge told me not to do it again. But I think the message was sent.” Referencing a catchphrase commonly used by Michelle Obama, she added, “When they go low, we go high — and I went as high as I could go.”
Okoumou, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1994, began climbing the Statue of Liberty after other members of the activist group Rise and Resist New York displayed a banner that read “Abolish ICE” at the bottom of the iconic statue. Seven members from the group were reportedly arrested as Okoumou began climbing. She began her ascent from the observation deck, which is publicly accessible, and made it more than about 20 feet up from there to the base of the statue, causing authorities to evacuate more than 4,000 people from Liberty Island amid the security breach. She was about 150 feet above ground at that point, a difficult stunt that has never been attempted before, the public affairs officer for the Statue of Liberty told CBS2 local news.
The demonstration set off a standoff between Okoumou and police that lasted for hours. She told officers she was protesting the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy which has resulted in the separations of thousands of migrants from their children when they are detained illegally crossing the Southern U.S. border. Okoumou said she wouldn’t leave until all children were reunited with their parents. After about three-and-a-half hours, police successfully negotiated with Okoumou for her to turn herself in, and police rescued her from the precarious spot at the base of Lady Liberty. In addition to the stunt being a difficult one, the rescue operation was also challenging given the dangerous angles of the lower portion of the statue. News cameras captured much of the drama unfolding at the statue, a top New York City tourist attraction, as the nation celebrated its 242nd birthday.
Okoumou is a Congolese immigrant who lives in the St. George neighborhood of New York City’s Staten Island, according to The New York Post. Members of Rise and Resist New York said her climb was unplanned and that they were surprised by the fact that she tried it and how far up she was able to make it without any climbing gear whatsoever.
The group issued a statement on Okoumou and hailed her as an “amazing woman” for having attempted the climb. “Patricia is our friend, our comrade, our sister,” the statement said. “From the moment that we realized that this amazing woman whom we have gotten to know, love, and respect was the person who had climbed to the foot of Lady Liberty, we had three concerns: one for her safety from falling, second, for her safety as a woman of color who was about to be engaged by law enforcement, and third, to find her the best legal representation that we could.”
In a statment, Berman, the federal prosecutor, said, “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.”
Therese "Patricia" Okoumou, the woman who climbed onto the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July, spoke outside an #NYC courthouse: "When they go low, we go high, and I went as high as I could go." More: https://t.co/Yotw9C0obN #statueoflibertyclimber https://t.co/QyOxnkf63t
— CBS New York (@CBSNewYork) July 5, 2018
Okoumou’s lawyer, Rhidaya Shodhan Trivedi, also addressed reporters and described her client as “lady liberty.” She also vowed to keep fighting against the president’s immigration policy. “We are going to keep fighting until family separation is a thing of the past,” she said.
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