One Month After Arrest, Statue of Liberty Protester Makes New Splash

MANHATTAN (CN) – Relishing in a spotlight that found her on Independence Day when she scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty, immigration protester Therese Patricia Okoumou broke into an expressive song Friday after her second federal court appearance.

“America, you motherfuckers, you drug addicts, you KKK, you fascist U.S.A.,” the Congo-born Okoumou chanted following a 40-minute hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein.

Surrounded by supporters, including fellow members of the group Rise and Resist, the 44-year-old Okoumou called for this morning’s hearing to request a preliminary determination as to whether the judge intends to impose prison time.

Okoumou pleaded not guilty on July 5 but faces a possible 1.5-year sentence if convicted on three charges against her: trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with agency functions.

“There is, however, a special rule in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that governs what we call petty offense, and that rule not only permits but requires the judge to make a preliminary determination as to the possibility of a jail sentence,” civil rights defense lawyer Ron Kuby told reporters outside the courthouse.

Standing between her attorneys, Therese Okoumou addresses the media on Aug. 3, 2018, following an appearance in federal court. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

Prosecutors called the protest a “dangerous stunt,” but attorney Kuby lauded his client’s actions.

Calling her “Our Lady of Liberty,” Kuby said Okoumou’s protest was in line with “literally the highest traditions of nonviolent civil disobedience, captivating the attention of the world on America’s most special day to bring to the world’s attention the plight of immigrant children.”

Supporters of Okoumou, who is a U.S. citizen, meanwhile called for the charges against her to be dropped.

“Return the Children,” they chanted, referencing the Trump administration’s separation of thousands of families at America’s southern border.

Okoumou had been protesting this policy on July 4 before her arrest as part of an effort to abolish the federal agency Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

“I did not expect for it to turn out the way it did … I just wanted to do what it is right,” Okoumou said.

Two references to first lady Melania Trump decorate the back of the green dress worn to court on Aug. 3, 2018, by Therese Okoumou. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

The green dress Okoumou wore to court meanwhile included two references to the president’s wife: “I Really Care, Why Won’t U?” and “Be Best.”

In late June, when boarding a plane to visit a detention camp where Homeland Security was housing the immigrant children separated from their parents, the first lady wore an inexpensive jacket emblazoned with the words, “I Really Don’t Care Do U?”

A month earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had unveiled the family-separation policy mere hours after Melania Trump in a rare public appearance laid out her “Be Best” agenda for the nation’s children.

Staten Island-based Okoumou meanwhile has kept busy in the month since her arrest: assembling a team of support professionals, including a public relations strategist, fundraising experts, social media specialist and a clothing designer.

Both inside and outside of the courthouse Friday Okoumou offered several statements opposing the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Reading a part of her speech in both French and English, Okoumou called on French President Emmanuel Macron directly to publicly renounce the Trump administration’s “barbaric and arbitrary” immigration laws.

Okoumou also spoke about her involvement with the group Rise and Resist: “I am a member of Rise and Resist because its mission is simple: consistency and involvement in direct actions.”

The New York City-based group described itself as “committed to opposing, disrupting, and defeating any government act that threatens democracy, equality, and our civil liberties.”

Citing the legendary American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Okoumou proclaimed: “I submit that an individual who breaks the law their conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accept the penalty of imprisonment in order to arise the conscience of the community of its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Supporters of immigration protester Therese Okoumou gather outside a federal courthouse in Manhattan on Aug. 3, 2018, following a hearing in the federal case. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

Her silver-ponytailed defense attorney has a reputation for theatrics himself. Solidifying his place in counterculture history, Kuby was among the radical attorneys requested for counsel by titular character Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski during the Malibu Police Department scene in the 1998 Coen Brothers comedy “The Big Lebowski.”

Kuby maintained an energetic and jovial presence during the court proceedings, referring to the government’s attorney as “Brother Calico.”

Okoumou is also represented by Rhidaya “Rhiya” Trivedi from Kuby’s New York City firm.

Three of the U.S. Park Police officers who apprehended Okoumou at the Statue of Liberty attended Friday’s hearing, dressed in full Park Police uniforms.

The next conference will be Oct. 1.

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