Statue Of Liberty Climber

Danny Owens

Police Apprehend Protester Who Climbed Statue of Liberty

July 04, 2018 - 9:46 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- A protest against U.S. immigration policy forced the evacuation of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July, with a group unfurling a banner from the pedestal and a woman holding police at bay for hours after she climbed the base and sat by the statue's robes.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Independence Day, Liberty Island was evacuated after a woman was spotted attempting to scale the statue. When police tried to persuade the climber to descend, she sat at the base for nearly three hours.

At around 6 p.m., the woman attempted to climb further up and police were then able to safely apprehend her.   

The woman, Therese Okoumou, told police she was protesting the separation of immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, according to a federal official who was briefed on what happened but wasn't authorized to discuss it and spoke on the condition of anonymity. A message left at a possible phone number for Okoumou wasn't immediately returned.

Earlier, National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis said six other protesters were taken into custody for hanging a banner, which read “Abolish I.C.E.,” off the statue’s pedestal. Willis says federal regulations prohibit hanging banners from the monument.

Rise and Resist, the group that organized the protest, said she was among 40 protesters who took part in unfurling the banner.

Jay W. Walker, an organizer with Rise and Resist, said the other demonstrators had no idea the woman would make the ascent, which wasn't part of the planned protest.

"Her decision to climb the statue was made independently of the group, without consulting any other member of the group," the group said in a press release. "We understand and share her desire to see the immediate release of children from detention and reunion with their parents."

Walker said, "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, but he added that regardless, he feels the publicity would help the group's cause.

But Willis saw it differently.

"I feel really sorry for those visitors today" who had to leave or couldn't come, Willis said. "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 climber ascended from the observation point, Willis said. Visitors were forced to leave Liberty Island hours before its normal 6:15 p.m. closing time, he said.

The New York-based group opposes President Donald Trump's administration and advocates ending deportations and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the president's immigration policy is a step forward for public safety.

Under Trump's zero-tolerance policy, the government has begun requiring border agents to arrest and prosecute anyone caught entering the country illegally. That resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents within six weeks this spring.

Under public pressure, Trump later 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 in 30 days.

"Abolish ICE" has become a rallying cry at protests around the country and for some Democratic officeholders seeking to boost their progressive credentials. But Trump, a Republican, said on Twitter last week that abolishing ICE will "never happen!"

The Statue of Liberty has long been 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.

Last February, someone hung a banner reading "Refugees Welcome" from the observation deck. The sign was taken down about an hour after being discovered.

A year earlier, a West Virginia man was sentenced to time served after calling in a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of Liberty Island, sending 3,200 people on boats back to lower Manhattan and New Jersey.

In 2000, 12 people protesting the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques for bombing exercises were arrested after a man climbed out on the spires of the statue's crown and attached flags and banners to it.