Liberty Island was evacuated Wednesday as a woman was arrested for trying to scale the iconic Statue of Liberty to protest President Trump.
The woman, who appeared to be black and could be seen holding up a T-shirt displaying the words “Rise and Resist” and “Trump Care Makes Us Sick,” was able to scale the base of the statue.
She was arrested by two rappelling police officers about 100 feet off the ground after a 4-hour standoff shown on live TV on America’s Independence Day.
The whole island was evacuated as a precaution by the National Park Service, which runs the monument.
“I feel really sorry for those visitors today” who had to leave or weren’t let in, said Jerry Willis, a Service spokesman. “People have the right to speak out. I don’t think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it.”
The Park Police already had arrested at least six members of a “Resistance” group for unfurling a banner at the park saying “Abolish I.C.E.”
The group Rise and Resist NYC said on Facebook that it demanded the immediate closure of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, increasingly a common demand among Democrats, and that the administration “reunite families, halt deportations and end detention as a deterrent.”
Jay W. Walker, an organizer with Rise and Resist, confirmed that the woman who climbed up the statue was part of the earlier demonstration.
The “direct action” group had falsely claimed earlier on Twitter that their banner unfurling “did not include the climber on the statue” and that she had “no connection” to the group.
Mr. Walker later said that while she was involved, he didn’t know the woman’s name and that climbing the statue was not in the group’s plans.
“We don’t know whether she had this planned before she ever got to Liberty Island or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” he told reporters Wednesday evening.
U.S. National Parks Service spokesman Jerry Willis said that Ms. Okoumou’s acts were a threat to the iconic statue.
“She was on the copper of a national icon,” he said, adding that the copper is thin. “She could do some damage.”
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Who is Therese Patricia Okoumou, the woman who tried to scale the Statue of Liberty?
The woman arrested for scaling the base of the Statue of Liberty on Wednesday as part of a protest against U.S. immigration policy is an immigrant herself and an active participant in the resistance movement against President Trump, according to fellow demonstrators.
Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, of Staten Island, was born and educated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but she has lived in New York for at least the last 10 years, records show.
She joined the group Rise and Resist, which unfurled an “Abolish ICE” banner at the base of the statue on Wednesday, a few months ago and has been taking part in about one protest a week with the group, according to member Jay Walker.
“She’s been an active member of Rise and Resist for four or five months,” Walker said. “She’s participated in quite a few of our actions.”
The group disavowed her lawbreaking stunt on their social media posts, but they expressed concern for her well-being.
“No one in the group knew this was going to happen,” Walker said. “We don’t know if she did it on the spur of the moment or if she had been planning it beforehand.”
He said he could see her at the base of the statue.
“She was standing on the platform, touching her foot,” he said. “I hope when they took her down they didn’t injure her. That’s our main concern.”
She was arrested and charged with federal trespassing, disorderly conduct and other charges. She’s scheduled to be arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Okoumou works as a personal trainer by profession, according to a 2009 Staten Island Advance article, and she’s bounced around the city and the Catskills working as a physical therapist.
In August 2017, she was arrested for trespassing, obstruction of government administration and misdemeanor assault during a demonstration against the state Department of Labor on Varick Street. Okoumou, who carried a protest placard, had covered her mouth with tape and refused police demands that she leave the building. She refused to enter an ambulance by lying on the ground, kicking her feet and flailing her arms, according to police. She was charged with misdemeanor assault after one of the cops was hit during her flailing, authorities said.
Public records show that Okoumou has a long history of fighting social justice battles, even her own.
In 2003, she filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit, charging racial discrimination after being fired from a job as a staffer at a battered women’s home called Safe Horizons. Okoumou’s boss complained that she was rude to other staffers and clients at the shelter, according to court records. Her lawyer eventually withdrew from the case and she represented herself, unsuccessfully for the remainder of the case.
She won $1,500 in a 2009 racial discrimination lawsuit against a Staten Island towing company, County Recovery.
She unsuccessfully filed a human rights complaint in 2007 against a group home in Staten Island for racial discrimination.
Neighbors on Staten Island said that they were surprised by her statue stunt, but not by her reasoning.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Tito Rivera, the superintendent of her apartment building said. “She’s very outspoken about the Trump administration.”
A woman who lives in her building said she wears her passions on her sleeve.
“She can be very nice and she can be a b—h,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “When I vacuum, she bangs on the wall. I bang back, and she put a dent in my door.”
The two later reconciled after Okoumou took a liking to the woman’s dog.
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