Wednesday, December 19, 2018

'I must continue':
Statue of Liberty climber still protesting
despite facing prison

from The Guardian:

Therese Patricia Okoumou condemned Trump’s immigration policies at the Eiffel Tower ahead of her trial in New York

Therese Patricia Okoumou, the protester who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July in an audacious protest against the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families, faces the prospect of federal prison when she goes on trial in New York next week.

Millions watched Okoumou’s protest unfold on live television on 4 July as she broke away from a civil rights demonstration and began climbing up the towering figure on its small island in New York City.

Helicopters buzzed around the statue and tourists were evacuated as law enforcement officers attached to ropes crawled around the base in pursuit of her, and eventually removed Okoumou from her precarious perch. She later told the Guardian she was afraid she could have fallen if she climbed higher – or been shot by police. But despite her impending trial, Okoumou has continued her protest.

Last month she returned from a trip to Paris, where on Thanksgiving Day she unfurled a banner halfway up the Eiffel Tower reading “#ReturnTheChildren” before being forcibly removed by police.

“The French gave us the Statue of Liberty,” she said, explaining her latest choice of protest location in an interview with the Guardian.

“On 4 July the world was listening … but now a lot of people have moved on even though there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding at the US border with Mexico. Many aren’t taking it seriously,” she added.

The New Yorker faces a bench trial before a judge in federal court in Manhattan on 17 December. She is charged with three federal misdemeanors relating to trespass, disorderly conduct and interfering with the functioning of government. Okoumou has pleaded not guilty.

Each offense carries a maximum of six months imprisonment and Okoumou said there has been no offer of a plea deal by prosecutors. She has legal representation and said: “As far as I’m concerned, we are ready for trial. I haven’t been thinking about the proceedings, I’ve been thinking about the children in cages.”

The Trump administration has continued to separate children from their parents when they cross the southern border unlawfully, despite an executive order last summer officially reversing the policy after widespread uproar. Minors are taken from accompanying adults and detained separately while the government puts the parents through criminal prosecutions, instead of through immigration court as was the norm.

Though the large-scale separations seen earlier this year have been ended, the Associated Press reported last week that the Trump administration continues to separate children from their parents if they slip across the border.

Several thousand migrant children are also detained at an expanding detention camp in the desert at Tornillo, near El Paso, Texas. And children, many sick or disabled, are among hundreds of Central Americans now crowded in squalid conditions on the Mexican side of the US border as Trump cracks down on asylum applications and further militarizes the border amid rhetoric about a so-called “invasion”.

“These are concentration camps, pretty much. These children are detained against their will and against the will of their parents and they are being used as political bait,” said Okoumou said.

A resident of the city’s Staten Island borough, where she has lived since immigrating from the Republic of Congo more than two decades ago and gaining US citizenship, Okoumou had been working as a personal trainer until her protest at the Statue of Liberty was beamed around the world.

Now she is a full-time activist, she said, supporting herself via crowdfunding, and is still involved with the direct action campaign group she initially demonstrated with on 4 July, Rise and Resist.

Okoumou described the incident last month where migrants, including young children, were teargassed by the US at the border as “an atrocity”.

“When they can do this and they get away with it, it makes me realize I must continue with acts of civil disobedience. It’s cruel, it’s reprehensible,” she said of US policy.

The banner she unfurled on the Eiffel Tower at Thanksgiving read “Abolish Ice”, referring to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. It also said: “Christopher Columbus did not discover America! End patriarchy” and “#ReturnTheChildren”.

Okoumou said she would like to take her campaign of civil disobedience to the US southern border itself, but she feared for her safety there. Besides, after her trial she may not be at liberty for a while.

She said she “will have no choice” but to tolerate prison if found guilty and given a custodial sentence. She vows to continue her campaign until all children held in detention in the US after crossing the border are united or reunited with family members.

“I find it hard to sleep while they are in cages,” she said. “This is not how you treat your neighbors.”

*go to the original article HERE at The Guardian for Links and Videos

No comments:

Post a Comment