Protest Shuts Down Statue of Liberty on July 4th
An idiot climbed the monument, wasting police resources and ruining the day for hundreds of visitors.
AP (“Protester’s climb shuts down Statue of Liberty on July 4“):
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.
The woman and at least a half-dozen demonstrators who displayed the banner were arrested, while the climb forced thousands of visitors to leave the iconic American symbol on the nation’s birthday.
About 100 feet (30 meters) aboveground, the woman engaged in a four-hour standoff with police before two officers climbed up to the base and went over to her. With the dramatic scene unfolding on live television, she and the officers edged carefully around the statue toward a ladder, and she climbed down about 25 feet (8 meters) to the monument’s observation point and was taken into custody.
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.
The climber was among about 40 demonstrators who earlier unfurled a banner calling for abolishing the federal government’s chief immigration enforcement agency, said Jay W. Walker, an organizer with Rise and Resist, which arranged the demonstration.
Walker said the other demonstrators had no idea the woman would make the ascent, which wasn’t part of the planned protest.
“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,” Walker said.
Regardless, he said he felt the publicity would help the group’s cause.
A spokesman for the National Park Service, which runs the monument, saw it differently.
“I feel really sorry for those visitors today” who had to leave or couldn’t come, spokesman Jerry 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.
New York’s NBC4 (“Woman Scales Lady Liberty After ‘Abolish ICE’ Banner Unfurled at Statue“) adds:
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.
The rescue was also highly technical because of the slopes and angles around the base of the statue: “There was nothing for Chris and I to grab onto,” said Glacken. “So that high point, and trusting the equipment that we have and trusting the guys behind us, is what made it work.”
Sixteen ESU officers in total were staked out at the statue during the response.
Earlier, seven people were arrested by the United States Park Police after unrolling a banner that read “Abolish I.C.E.,” at the statue. The banner was organized by the group Rise and Resist NYC, which said on Facebook it was at the Statue of Liberty to demand President Donald Trump abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and “reunite families, halt deportations and end detention as a deterrent.”
The group initially denied any connection to the climber, saying in a tweet, “The climber on the Statue of Liberty has no connection to our #abolishice action earlier today.”
But a Rise and Resist member named Annette Guadino who participated in the banner unfurling later confirmed to News 4 that the person on the statue had been part of their protest.
The seven protesters will be charged with unlawful protest, U.S. Park Police said.
Like Jerry Willis, I think “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.” Or, at least, not for long. The Statue, with its symbolic attachment to immigration, is a natural place for this sort of protest. As the AP report notes,
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.
While the right to protest grievances against our government is among our fundamental rights, we’ve long recognized the need to balance that against the rights of our fellow citizens. Some four and a half million people visit the Statue annually, which works out to some 12,300 daily. One imagines the number would be higher on Independence Day.
It’s one thing to string up a banner and then submit peacefully to arrest. It’s quite another to put the lives of first responders in jeopardy and ruin the holiday of thousands of people, some significant percentage of whom may never get another opportunity to visit the monument.
One presumes the folks who hung the banner will spend a few hours in jail and pay a rather small fine for their illegal protest. One presumes—and I certainly hope—the woman who climbed the statue and refused to come down for hours will face much steeper penalties.