Details of a Woman's Fourth of July Climb Up the Statue of Liberty in Protest of Trump Immigration Policy
NEW YORK — July 5, 2018
The Fourth of July this year wasn't simply an occasion for celebration in light of growing opposition to the Trump whitehouse. Several demonstrators protested at the base of the Statue of Liberty while one woman scaled the base of the statue itself, unfurling a banner in protest of the Trump administration's controversial immigration policy.
The police had to evacuate not only the grounds of the Statue of Liberty, but also the entire island which was crowded with visitors for the July Fourth holiday. Visitors were told to leave Liberty Island hours before its normal 6:15 p.m. closing time,
The woman now identified as Therese Okoumou, 44, climbed up the base of the Statue to a height of about 100 feet (30 meters). She walked back and forth, before lying down and casually kicking her legs, a position in which she remained while engaged in a four-hour standoff with police before the NYPD's highly trained emergency services climbed the base and placing a rope around Okoumou, who then climbed down and to be placed under arrest.
To get down, Okoumou had to edge carefully around the statue toward a ladder, and then climb down about 25 feet (8 meters) to the monument’s observation point where she was arrested. The seven protesters who came with Therese Okoumou will be charged with unlawful protest, U.S. Park Police said.
The police are potentially charging the activist herself with trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with government functions.
Okoumou was combative and unfriendly at first, threatening to push the officers and the ladder off the statue. Nonetheless, the officers were persistent and continued negotiations. They were eventually able to establish a rapport, at which point Okoumou agreed to end her demonstration.
As she explained to police, she made the climb in order to protest the separation of immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. A Federal official explained that he wasn’t authorized to discuss the immediate consequences or a way to reach the activist, due to concerns for her privacy.
In addition to this action, there were at least 40 demonstrators who had earlier in the day unfurled a banner calling for the abolition of the federal government’s chief immigration enforcement agency. The banner read “Abolish I.C.E.,” referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers arrest and deport immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. The action was organized by Jay W. Walker, an organizer with the organization “Rise and Resist”.
He noted that he could not have predicted that the woman would make the ascent, and that the action wasn’t part of the planned protest.
“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,” Walker said. "Regardless, the publicity would help the group’s cause."
Despite Walker's statement to the contrary, another Rise and Resist member, Annette Guadino, who had participated in the banner unfurling earlier that day, later confirmed that the climb had been planned as a part of the protest.
Later Guadino said the group supports the woman and "certainly understands the feeling that motivated her to do this," adding that they were nonetheless concerned for her safety.
A spokesman for the National Park Service Jerry Willis said federal regulations prohibit hanging banners from the monument.
“I feel really sorry for those visitors today who had to leave or couldn’t come”, spokesman Jerry Willis said. “Of course, people have the right to speak out. But I don’t think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it.”
Some Liberty Island tourists were upset about having their visits interrupted.
"We had just gotten on the island, we walked probably five minutes and all of a sudden, they're shuffling us out. We didn't even spend 10 minutes there," said one woman from Columbus, Ohio.
Another man visiting from Miami with his family said the protester "ruined our visit."
"It's not every day you get to go to the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July," he told to journalists. "At first we thought it was a terrorist attack, and then we found out it was a protester... I think there is a right way of protesting, a legal way of protesting, and she just ruined our trip."
Others supported the protesters' message.
The Statue of Liberty is known as a welcoming symbol for immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. It also has been a setting for protests and other actions that forced evacuations in the past.
The protest against immigration policy started a week after a Wisconsin congressman announced his intent to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a goal which has become a campaign rallying point for some Democrats this primary season.
Protest groups like Rise and Resist oppose President Donald Trump’s administration and advocate ending deportations and family separations at the border.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the president’s immigration policy is a step forward for a public safety. Under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, at least 2,000 children have been left separated from their parents within a six weeks this spring. Their parents still remain in immigration detention centers.
Responding to mounting public pressure, Trump halted his policy of taking children from their detained parents. A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration late last month to reunite the more than 2,000 children with their parents within 30 days.