June 17, 2019

Woman who climbed Statue of Liberty in immigration protest given probation | US news

The woman who climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York on Independence Day last year to protest against the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border has been sentenced to five years’ probation and 200 hours of community service.

Therese Patricia Okoumou, who is known as Patricia, was sentenced in a New York court on Tuesday after being convicted last December of trespass for attempting to climb the outside of the Statue of Liberty last 4 July, then refusing to come down, as police helicopters circled and the monument was evacuated.

Okoumou arrived at court with clear tape across her mouth, to protest against what she said are restrictions to her freedom of expression in relation to her determination to carry out direct action-style protest over immigration rights.

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The judge in the case ordered her to remove the tape before she could be sentenced, and Okoumou complied. She had also written on her face the words “I care” and turned up in court with fellow activists in support.

She had been facing up to 18 months in prison and had lately been under house arrest for breaking her bail conditions after carrying out a direct action protest in Texas, while her New York sentencing was pending.

“I do not need probation, and I do not belong in prison. I am not a criminal,” Okoumou told the judge, Gabriel Gorenstein.

Okoumou captured the attention of the world on live TV after she broke away from a protest over harsh US immigration policy, organized at the Statue of Liberty by the activism group Rise and Resist, and, alone, began climbing the base of the statue. She had aimed to climb all the way up to the top of the figure, but was unable to ascend the slippery metal and huddled at the base of “Lady Liberty” as law enforcement officers closed in.

Therese Patricia Okoumou speaks to the media after her sentencing in New York.

Therese Patricia Okoumou speaks to the media after her sentencing in New York. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

She later told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview, that she was kept awake at night by images of migrant children ripped from their parents’ arms after crossing the border and then kept in child detention centers and camps in the US.

“I had thought, ‘It’s the Statue of Liberty, it’s the Fourth of July and there are children in cages, we are doing a protest but I want to send an even stronger message and this is the perfect day for it.’ All of those elements together were necessary to give me the courage,” she said at the time.

Okoumou has called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agency (Ice).

Last November she traveled to Paris and unfurled anti-Ice banners on the Eiffel Tower, explaining to the Guardian that because the French had given America the Statue of Liberty it seemed like an appropriate location for a demonstration.

“I must continue,” she said of her protests.

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