Therese Patricia Okoumou, the 45-year-old woman arrested for scaling the State of Liberty on Wednesday, likely sought to take a stand against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that’s caused thousands of migrant children to be separated from their parents.
“She just kind of mentioned the kids in Texas. I guess the whole debate that’s going on about that,” NYPD spokesman Brian Glacken told CNN. He added that Okoumou was being “a little combative” but then conceded and cooperated with authorities. It took almost four hours for police to finally get her down.
She belongs to the New York-based group Rise and Resist. Members of that group were arrested for hanging a large banner reading “Abolish I.C.E.” on the statue’s pedestal, a jab at the federal agency that’s responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants. But the group said that Okoumou’s climb wasn’t part of their plan.
“No one in the group knew this was going to happen. We don’t know if she did it on the spur of the moment or if she had been planning it beforehand,” group member Jay Walker told the New York Daily News.
The group did release a statement offering its support for Okoumou, explaining that all along it was concerned for her safety and is now looking for legal representation for her.
She was arrested on charges of trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct, and is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday. Each of those three counts carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, according to Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He characterized her protest as “a dangerous stunt that alarmed the public and endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene.”
“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,” he said in a statement. “I commend the Park Police for the orderly evacuation of Liberty Island yesterday, and the NYPD for their bravery and effectiveness in bringing yesterday’s events to a safe conclusion.”
Okoumou, a Congolese immigrant who lives in Staten Island, has been involved with activism before. She was reportedly arrested last year for injuring an officer while she was being apprehended during a protest outside of the Department of Labor and was also quoted at an anti-Trump protest outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) office.
A judge ruled last week that all families separated at the border must be reunited by the end of the month, but progress appears to be moving at a glacial pace.
This story has been updated to include her charges and a response from U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.