By Frederick H. Lowe
Wearing a black sweat shirt with “White Supremacy Is Terrorism” printed in large white block letters, Therese Patricia Okoumou walked out of a federal courthouse in New York on Thursday after pleading not guilty to climbing to the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Her protest led police to close Liberty Island on the Fourth of July, pissing off some tourists.
Okounou, a 44-year native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told police when they convinced her to talk, that she climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the southern border where immigrants from Central and South America attempt to enter the United States.
In broken English, Okoumou said during a brief press conference outside the courthouse “that in a democracy, we don’t put children in cages.”
Some visitors to the Statue of Liberty weren’t sympathetic. “She picked a bad day to protest,” one man complained after being ordered to leave Liberty Island.
Earlier, Okoumou had taped her mouth shut, preventing her from speaking when police arrested her. She began her summit of the Statue of Liberty at 3:15 p.m. She was 150 feet above the ground when police arrived around 4:10 p.m.
Okoumou is a member of the group “Rise and Resist,” which unfurled a banner that said “Resist Ice.” Initially, members of Rise and Resist distanced themselves from Okounou because they did not know where she had gone. They later embraced her and hired her a lawyer.
“… We unintentionally led people to believe that we were distancing the group from Patricia. Nothing could be further from the truth. Patricia is our friend, out sister and our comrade,” Rise and Resist said on its Facebook page.
Police arrested Okoumou, who lives on Staten Island, after three hours. She is a professional trainer and has worked as a physical therapist.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York charged her with trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison.
“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,” Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
Okoumou is due back in federal court on August 3. The Statue of Liberty National Monument resumed normal operating hours on Thursday, the National Park Service said.