News ID: 217889
Published: 0601 GMT July 06, 2018

Statue of Liberty climber pleads not guilty after immigration protest

Statue of Liberty climber pleads not guilty after immigration protest

A New York woman who scaled the stone pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to protest US immigration policy pleaded not guilty to trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with governmental administration in her first court appearance on Thursday.

Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, was arrested on Wednesday after she climbed the statue’s pedestal and began a three-hour standoff with police that led to the evacuation of the landmark on the Fourth of July holiday, celebrating US independence.

After her brief arraignment on the three misdemeanor charges, Magistrate Judge Ona Wang ordered Okoumou to be released from federal custody.

Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney in Manhattan, called the hours-long protest a “dangerous stunt” that endangered lives.

“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,” Berman said in a statement.

An activist group called Rise and Resist said on Facebook that Okoumou was part of a protest at the base of the statue against immigration policy.

The protesters unfurled a banner that read “Abolish ICE,” the acronym for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Created in 2003, the agency has become a focus of criticism over US President Donald Trump’s policy of “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration.

Outside court afterward, Okoumou thanked the US Park Police for their courtesy and professionalism, but said the government’s “draconian policy” on immigration had to end.

“In a democracy we do not put children in cages,” Okoumou told reporters. “The judge told me not to do it again. But I think the message was sent.”

Patricia Okoumou raises her hand in the air after leaving federal court from her arraignment, a day after authorities say she scaled the stone pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to protest US immigration policy, and speaking to the media in Manhattan, New York, US, July 5, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Her attorney, Rhidaya Shodhan Trivedi, told reporters, “We are going to keep fighting until family separation is a thing of the past.”

About two dozen people, including some of Okoumou’s fellow protesters, had gathered in the courtroom’s public gallery.

ICE, along with US Customs and Border Protection and the US Justice Department, has been involved in handling the Trump administration’s shelved policy of separating some children from their parents when they cross illegally into the United States from Mexico.

Television footage on Wednesday showed two officers, outfitted in harnesses and ropes, slowly approaching a woman and grabbing her as she clung to the sloping side of the more-than-300-foot-high (91 meter) statue, moments after she tried unsuccessfully to scale Lady Liberty’s robes.

Seven protesters were arrested on the island earlier in the day, the National Park Service said, Ptrsstv Roprted.

The incident forced authorities to evacuate Liberty Island on a sweltering holiday afternoon when thousands usually visit the statue, a symbol of American freedom that has stood in the New York Harbor since 1886.

The next hearing in Okoumou’s case is set for August 3.

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