Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Activist Who Climbed Statue of Liberty Arraigned on Federal Charges

"Michelle Obama, our beloved first lady who I care so much about, said, 'When they go low, we go high,' and I went as high as I could."

That was the plan for activist Therese Patricia Okoumou, who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day. Okoumou, a Congolese immigrant who became an American citizen, was protesting President Trump's immigration policies with her 100-foot climb, along with other activists who unfurled an "Abolish ICE" banner nearby. She was taken into custody and now faces three federal criminal charges.

Public Alarm

"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," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. "As alleged in the information, the defendant staged a dangerous stunt that alarmed the public and endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene."

Okoumou was charged with and pleaded not guilty to three federal offenses, all misdemeanors: trespassing, interfering with agency functions, and disorderly conduct. The first two refer to her climb and subsequent rescue, while the disorderly charge claims she "created and maintained a hazardous and physically offensive condition," "with the intent to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy and violence." Officials claim they were forced to close and evacuate the monument until Okoumou could be apprehended, about three hours after the climb began.

Hazardous and Physically Offensive Conditions

Okoumou was unrepentant after her arraignment. "Trump has ripped this country apart," she said after emerging from a U.S. District Court in New York. "It is depressing. It is outrageous. I can say a lot of things about this monster, but I will stop at this. His draconian zero-tolerance policy on immigration has to go. In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period."

In response to this criticism, President Trump said at a rally that he would have waited for the protester to jump.

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