Woman scales Statue of Liberty on July 4 to demand freedom for detained migrant children

Therese Patricia Okoumou was taken into custody after protesting Trump's separation of immigrant families

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 5, 2018 12:37PM (EDT)

In this image made from video by PIX11, a person, center, leans against the robes of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, as one of the police officers climbed up on a ladder to stand on a ledge nearby talking the climber into descending in New York, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (PIX11 via AP)
In this image made from video by PIX11, a person, center, leans against the robes of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, as one of the police officers climbed up on a ladder to stand on a ledge nearby talking the climber into descending in New York, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (PIX11 via AP)

A woman, Therese Patricia Okoumou, was taken into custody after climbing one of America's most iconic monuments on Independence Day. Okoumou scaled the Statue of Liberty to protest President Donald Trump's policy of separating immigrant children from their families.

Okoumou, who is affiliated with an anti-Trump protest group called Rise and Resist, climbed the base of the statue on the Fourth of July during one of the group's protests. Her decision to climb the Statue of Liberty was entirely her own, however, according to one organizer of the group, Martin Joseph Quinn, who spoke with CNN.

Jamie Bauer, a member of Rise and Resist, told Salon that the group supports Okoumou. "I know Patricia (which is the name she goes by) from Rise and Resist by being at meetings and demonstrations with her over the past four or five months," Bauer said.

When asked about Okoumou's current status, Bauer told Salon that "we don't know because we haven't been able to have any contact with her and one of our lawyers has not been in to see her yet, so we're waiting for her to be arraigned. Right now there's a group of 50 outside 500 Pearl Street at federal court waiting for her to be arraigned."

She added that "I can only speak to you as an individual, but Rise and Resist is supporting Patricia. We're here to make sure that what she did was an act of bravery and courage, and we are here to make sure that she is released and to ask that the charges be dropped."

When Salon asked on what grounds the charges should be dropped, Bauer replied, "In the interest of justice."

Bauer and Quinn aren't the only members of Rise and Resist to speak out on Okoumou's actions. A board member and organizer, Jay W. Walker, told the network that "none of us know how she got up there."

Police believe that seven other protesters who were also arrested on July 4th physically boosted her to the base of the statue, which made her act of protest possible. Although Rise and Resist says they didn't know about Okoumou's plans, they are going to help her find "the best legal representation" possible.

Walker also told the network, "We thought we wanted to do something on our Independence Day, a day that obviously is meant for reflection on the ideals on which this nation was founded. This country has posited itself as a beacon. Right now, we have a government that is actively turning its back on those ideals."

This sentiment may have explained the other high-profile act of protest associated with the group on Wednesday — namely, the decision to unveil a banner stating "Abolish ICE!" around the base of the statue.

A more vivid description of the events involved with Okoumou's climbing of the statue and eventual apprehension by the police were recounted by NBC's New York affiliate NBC 4:

Okoumou was seen at various points pacing back and forth on the base of the statue, then lying down and casually kicking her legs. Police officers watched from below as they attempted to coax her down, then brought out a ladder and other climbing gear to physically get to her. NYPD's highly trained emergency services and aviation units responded along with U.S. Park Police.

Hours after the response began, two ESU officers, Detectives Brian Glacken and Chris Williams were able to make it onto the base where Okoumou was.

"We just tried to get a dialogue with her while she was up there," Glacken told reporters at an evening briefing, saying the woman was talking about "the children in Texas."

She was combative and unfriendly at first, threatening to push the officers and the ladder off, Glacken said. But the officers were persistent and continued speaking with her, and were able to establish a rapport with her.

"I think the turning point was when we got her, she couldn't go any further, and I think she realized her time was up up there," Glacken said.

"She actually apologized to Chris and I for having to go up there to get her," he added.

News 4 also described the process of how Rise and Resist's New York City branch first learned of Okoumou's involvement in the Statue of Liberty protest, since they had initially claimed no affiliation with her whatsoever.

"While the people who were doing the banner were taken and detained by park police, we became aware that there was a climber on the statue. We did not know until just now, just a few minutes ago on the ferry when someone showed us a photo and we were able to confirm that it is a Rise and Resist member who took this action on her own," Rise and Resist member Annette Guadino told the network.

She added, "She did not discuss it with anybody beforehand, and we were completely unaware. We found this out through the same way everybody else is finding it out, through the news."

Okoumou's decision to climb the Statue of Liberty for her protest makes a great deal of symbolic sense, given the monument's unique role in the history of American immigration policy. In addition to being the first landmark visible to the millions of immigrants who poured into the United States through Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th century, the monument also brandishes a famous poem by Emma Lazarus called "The New Colossus."

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Trump's decision to separate the children of undocumented immigrants has been fiercely denounced since it was implemented. Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a Democrat, was stopped from trying to tour one of the facilities where the children are kept. That same month, a historian, Jon Meacham, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to explain how the program is so blatantly racist that it is reminiscent of the types of policies one might have expected to be implemented by segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace if he had been elected in 1968.

"The one through-line here from Charlottesville to this issue is — to use your phrase — a return to the most disturbing elements of white supremacy, white male supremacy to be precise, in the national character," Meacham explained at the time.

Although children are no longer being separated from their parents, no policy seems to be in place to reunite those who were already separated.

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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Family Separation Immigration Statue Of Liberty