The woman who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July is an immigrant with a long history of political activism and legal challenges against her employers.
Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, of Staten Island, brought tourist operations at Liberty Island to a standstill Wednesday, when she climbed up the base of the statue as part of a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
The stunt forced the National Park Service, which manages the site, to evacuate thousands of people who were visiting the iconic landmark for Independence Day. (RELATED: Crazy ICE Protester Scales Statue Of Liberty, Forces Tourists To Evacuate)
Okoumou was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has lived in New York for at least the last 10 years, the New York daily News reported Thursday. She has a history of social activism that includes lawsuits against former employers for alleged racial discrimination.
Most recently, Okoumou was arrested in August 2017 on charges of trespassing, obstruction of government administration and misdemeanor assault during a protest against the New York Department of Labor. At that demonstration, she covered her mouth with tape and refused police orders to leave the building.
Okoumou won $1,500 in a racial discrimination lawsuit in 2009 against County Recovery, a Staten Island towing company. Two years before that, she lost a “human rights complaint” against a Staten Island group home, the Daily News reported.
Okoumou’s first legal challenge claiming racial bias appears to have come in 2003, when she brought a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Safe Horizons, a shelter for battered women where she worked. She claimed she had been fired because of her race, but her boss said she was rude to other employees and victims at the shelter.
Wednesday’s protest at the Statue of Liberty was organized by Rise and Resist, a New York City-based “direct action” group formed in the wake of the 2016 election specifically to oppose the Trump administration’s policies. Group members confirmed that Okoumou is a member but claimed they did not know she was going to climb the Statue of Liberty as a part of the protest.
Thousands of would-be visitors to Liberty Island were turned away as authorities worked to get Okoumou off her perch at the top of the statue’s pedestal. Statue Cruises, which provides trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, was forced deny 3,000 people because of the stunt, the company told CNN.
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