Protester climbs base of Statue of Liberty, forcing shutdown of landmark

Image Credit: AFP

By Rick Rojas

NEW YORK: Authorities cleared visitors from the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July after a woman protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies climbed onto its base and refused to come down. About three hours later, police officers followed the woman onto the statue and took her safely into custody.

The stand-off created an unexpected spectacle in New York Harbor that culminated not long before the planned Independence Day fireworks were set to start nearby on the Hudson River. Television networks aired live coverage through the afternoon, showing a continuous video feed of the protester as she moved around the base of the statue.

The woman started climbing shortly after 3pm on what officials described as one of the busiest days of the year for the national monument. National Park Service officials said that more than 20,000 tourists typically visit the monument each July 4.

Throughout the afternoon, the woman, identified by federal officials as Therese Okoumou, waved what looked like a T-shirt and reclined in a crease of the statue’s robe. The copper is only about one-tenth of an inch thick, and officials feared she could damage the statue.

Before long, police officers and park rangers gathered beneath Okoumou after she refused their orders to come down. Attached to ropes, rescuers from the New York Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit climbed up and cornered her at about 6:30pm.

Okoumou is in federal custody and is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court Thursday, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office said.

Jerry Willis, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said park officials, prompted by security concerns, started evacuating visitors from the island about 3:30pm About 4,500 people were on the island at the time, and they had all left within about an hour, Willis said.

The episode came after the arrest of seven people in a separate demonstration at the statue on Wednesday. The earlier protest involved members of Rise and Resist, a group formed after the 2016 presidential election, who hung a banner calling for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. Members of the group, angered by the Trump administration’s immigration policies, called the agency a “threat to our liberty and way of life.”

Organisers of the Rise and Resist protest said Okoumou’s actions were separate from the group’s planned demonstration, which she had participated in.

Jay W. Walker, one of the group’s organizers, said Okoumou, who is known to other members as Patricia, had been involved with Rise and Resist for several months. He described her as active, regularly taking part in the group’s events. But on Wednesday, he said, other members were not aware of her plans to climb the statue.

“She’s a free citizen in the world – it’s a choice she made,” Walker said. “I think the choice she made is certainly bringing more attention to the overall protest.”

He added, “We don’t condemn her for the choice she made, and we’re going to do anything we can to support her.”

The Statue of Liberty, the colossal mint-green monument and one of the most visible attractions linked to New York City, has long been a potent protest symbol, with a history about as old as the statue itself as a stage for political demonstrations.

Suffragists protested at its unveiling in 1886, circling the island in a boat. In 1976, members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War barricaded themselves inside the monument to protest cuts in education benefits for veterans, and last year, a group hung a banner that said “refugees welcome.”

“On a day like Independence Day, we felt that it was the perfect melding of these huge symbols of what this country stands for,” Walker said of Rise and Resist.

But the Statue of Liberty is also a draw for visitors who have come from around the world, and Willis said Okoumou’s actions, which he described as a stunt, ruined the plans of the many others who tried to visit the island.

“It is their one and only chance to come here,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to clear the island.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.