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Statue of Liberty Protester Could Face Up to a Year and a Half in Prison

After scaling the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July to protest Trump's immigration policies, Therese Patricia Okoumou was brought up on three misdemeanor charges.

by Marie Solis
Jul 5 2018, 6:54pm

Victor Torres/Stocksy

Activists gathered in a Manhattan district courthouse Thursday afternoon to demand the release of Therese Patricia Okoumou, the woman who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July to protest the Trump administration's family separation practices.

Okoumou, a 44-year-old immigrant born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, could face up to a year and a half in prison for three misdemeanor charges, according to Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld.

"The defendant staged a dangerous stunt that alarmed the public and endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "While we must and do respect the rights of people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk."

Klasfeld, a veteran court reporter, said he'd "never seen such a strong statement from a U.S. attorney directed against an activist engaged in civil disobedience."

Okoumou was taken into federal custody on Wednesday after she spent three hours at the edges of the Statue of Liberty's robes, pledging she wouldn't come down until "all the children are released." Eventually, Okoumou allowed officers from New York City's Emergency Service Unit to put her in a harness so she could climb a ladder down from the statue.

Earlier that day, Okoumou had participated in a separate political demonstration with the New York City-based direct action activist group Rise and Resist, of which she's a member. According to CNN, seven other members of the group were also arrested for unfurling a banner reading "Abolish ICE" on the pedestal below the statue, a violation of National Park Service rules, which bans "flags, posters, banners and other similar items exceeding 20 feet in length by three feet in width" from the Statue of Liberty.

Rise and Resist said Okoumou's decision to scale the Statue of Liberty had been her own, and not part of their planned protests against the administration's immigration policies.

The group has nonetheless released a statement of support for Okoumou, and members of Rise and Resist appeared at the courthouse on Thursday—along with Black Lives Matter and immigrants' rights activists, as well as actress Yara Shadidi—to demand that Okoumou be released without bail. In a tweet, Rise and Resist said its members have also arranged "expert legal options" for her.

Okoumou's display of political protest won the attention of Bree Newsome, the activist known for climbing the flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse to remove the Confederate flag.

"Reminder: Whatever rights and freedoms we enjoy today were gained through struggle by people who openly challenged oppressive power structures and unjust laws, often acting in violation of the laws of their time," Newsome wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "The American Revolution was exactly that.

"That's why protests at Statue of Liberty today were brilliant," she continued. "They drew attention to central hypocrisy of US policy: annually celebrating the revolution of the white founders while annually denying freedom & humanity to the descendants of Africans & Indigenous Americans."