Therese Patricia Okoumou was the woman who climbed up on the skirts of the Statue of Liberty to protest President Trump’s immigration policies. WC think there is a lot to protest and that Ms. Okoumou’s protest was a pretty mild response. She didn’t harm anything or anyone; just sat there peacefully. According to the New York Daily News, a usually unreliable source,1 Ms. Okoumou can be a difficult personality.
But principled. She waved a couple of t-shirts but otherwise sat peacefully.
It’s about as non-violent as you can get, firmly in the tradition of Martin Luther King and American tradition of peaceful protest. Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, of Staten Island (she prefers to go by “Patricia”), was born and educated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but she has lived in New York for at least the last 10 years, records show. Her protests carry special weight, not just because she is an immigrant herself, but because she risks deportation by a vengeful federal government.
And speaking of a vengeful federal government, let’s examine what the Feds did in response to Ms. Okoumou’s protest. They arrested her. Fair enough, it was criminal trespass. She was charged with that. They also charged her with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and interfering with government functions. That’s kind of piling on, don’t you think?
The Feds also elected to evacuate Liberty Island entirely, sending home some 4,500 people. Because of one peaceful protester. That’s borderline irrational, and smacks of collective punishment: one person protests and the federal government punishes thousands of others. It wasn’t like they thought she had a bomb; you have to pass through metal detectors to even board the ferry for Liberty Island.
Of course, the Feds blamed Ms. Okoumou. The New York Times reported that Jerry Willis, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said that Ms. Okoumou’s actions, which he described as a stunt, ruined the plans of the many others who tried to visit the island.
No. It was the National Park Service’s grossly disproportionate response that “ruined the plans” of visitors. And it her peaceful protest was a “stunt,” so was the Boston Tea Party, and so have been the dozens of other protests held at the Statue of Liberty, ranging from the suffragists who protested women’s inability to vote at the statute’s unveiling in 1886 to the Puerto Rican nationalists who occupied the statue for nine hours and draped its forehead with a Puerto Rican flag in 1977 to the other takeovers in the 1970s by groups demanding such things as federal aid for Vietnam War veterans.2
WC lived through the police riots of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement. The Vietnam War protests. The American tradition of protest is matched – overmatched – by the state, local and federal governments’ absurd and sometimes violent over-reactions. As here. WC hopes that those 4,500 disappointed visitors understand they should not blame Ms. Okoumou for being forced to leave. They need to blame a government bent of severely punishing peaceful protest.
Bravo, Ms. Okoumou.3
- The great Tom Paxton probably put it best: “Daily News, daily blues/Pick up a copy any time you choose/Seven little pennies in the newsboy’s hand/And you ride right along to never, never land” – Tom Paxton, “Daily News,” from Rambling Boy, 1964. ↩
- Earlier the same day, the National Park police also arrested at least six other peaceful protesters, members of Rise and Resist, who were taken into custody after unfurling a banner on Liberty Island that read “Abolish I.C.E.” ↩
- Yes, Ms. Okoumou trespassed. She should face criminal charges. She knew that when she elected to peacefully protest. If convicted, she should face a minimal sentence. No, WC doesn’t particularly “like” Ms. Okoumou, whom he has never met. If the media reports are accurate, she doesn’t go out of her way to be likable. Neither of those issues is the point. ↩