In today's political climate, Independence Day sits in a grey area among many. It's why Therese Patricia Okoumou's decision to scale the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the name of justice on the national holiday (July 4).
Okoumou's protest caught the eyes of the world following a protest towards the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and President Donald Trump's border policies. Many have called for the urge to abolish ICE following several claims of unlawful practices towards refugees and people of color.
Sitting pretty and unbothered, Okoumou's demeanor and actions are a stark reminder of Bree Newsome's demonstration when she removed the Confederate flag from state grounds.
Okoumou was arrested and is currently in court. As we wait for what's to come, here's what we know about Therese Patricia Okoumou.
1. She's Been A Personal Trainer Since 2009
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Okoumou has resided in New York's Staten Island area for at least a decade. The 44-year-old is a professional trainer and in the past worked in the Catskills as a physical therapist.
When she's not working, Okoumou is expressive in social justices. While at the statue's feet, Okoumou sported a "Rise & Resist" shirt. According to their website, the direct action group is "committed to opposing, disrupting, and defeating any government act that threatens democracy, equality, and our civil liberties."
Member Jay Walker says she has only been a member for roughly five months but has engaged in protests frequently. The group was wrapping up a protest against ICE when she decided to scale the statue.
“She’s participated in quite a few of our actions,” he said. “No one in the group knew this was going to happen,” Walker said. “We don’t know if she did it on the spur of the moment or if she had been planning it beforehand.”
2. She's Expected To Be In Court Thursday
Okoumou was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with government functions. The disorderly conduct allegedly stems from when Okoumou flailed her feet as officers attempted to make the arrest. She's expected to appear before a New York Judge today (July 5).
3. Rise & Resist Haven't Supported Her Actions But Will Take Care Of Legal Fees
Rise and Resist was quickly accused of distancing themselves from Okoumou when she sported the shirt during her protest. The group released a statement in which they shared how they would cover her legal fees.
"On reflection, we realize that in our haste to complete the statement so that we could continue working to secure the best legal representation for Patricia, we unintentionally led people to believe that we were distancing the group from Patricia," the statement published on Medium reads.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. Patricia is our friend, our comrade, our sister. From the moment that we realized that this amazing woman whom we have gotten to know, love, and respect was the person who had climbed to the foot of Lady Liberty, we had three concerns: one for her safety from falling, second, for her safety as a woman of color who was about to be engaged by law enforcement, and third, to find her the best legal representation that we could."
4. She's Pushed Back Against The System Before
Okoumou has been headstrong in her dedication to the resistance. In 2017, she attended MoveOn.org's NY rally, urging Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer to bring about anti-Trump public forums and build a bridge between the people and lawmakers.
“Chuck Schumer is coming out and having a voice for us who cannot be seen on TV or newspaper to reflect what we are doing on our end on the street," she told the Observer. So he’s putting a lot of pressure and we are putting a lot of pressure on him. But I think it’s about time that the Republicans act bipartisan sometimes because they are issues, they’re not about parties.”
She's also had to take matters into her own hands. In 2009, she sued a Staten Island towing company after an employee spewed racist language towards her. In 2003, she filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit after she was fired from Safe Horizons, a safe place for victims of domestic abuse. The case was later dropped.
She also filed a human rights complaint in 2007 against a group home in Staten Island for racial discrimination but that case was also dropped.
5. A GoFundMe Has Been Created For Therese Patricia Okoumou
While Rise & Resist have shared that Okoumou's legal fees would be handled, a GoFundMe was created before their statement was released. "As soon as I saw her I was moved to tears," songwriter Khrystina Pryani tells VIBE. "I saw her on the news and just thought she was such a hero. I couldn't find out who she was so I felt like I had to start this GoFundMe. Let's support our sister and show our solidarity."
Pryani says she's been in touch with a member of Rise & Resist as well as Okoumou's lawyer. Backers have been skeptical about the campaign but, Pryani assures that the money raised will go directly to Okoumou.
"She's one of the most amazing people I've ever seen in my life so I just wanted to help her," Pryani said.
6. There Have Been Other Protests At The Statue Of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty has been a political platform since it's inception in 1884. Originally pushed as a group project by France and America, the former ended up creating the statue on its own and shipped it to New York in 1885.
The statue stood as a symbol of freedom for immigrants coming into Ellis Island. Since then, it's been a platform for those fighting against lawmakers.
Last February, a banner saying "Refugees Welcome" was hung from the observation deck in response to Trump's polarizing refugee ban.
In 1977, Vincent "Panama" Alba, Mickey Melendez and other members of the Young Lords Party called out the U.S. for treatment against Puerto Rican political prisoners by handing the flag in the statue's crown.
The eight-hour takeover ended when police invaded the space. The protesters became political prisoners themselves as it was assumed by the FBI that the group was armed and had hostages (which was proven to be false).
In 2000, the act was repeated when Tito Kayak draped a Puerto Rican flag over the statue's forehead. Kayak and five other Vieques activists were protesting the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques. Its bombing exercises created environmental woes for the residents as well as the wildlife on the island.