MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge gave a sentence of probation Tuesday to the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July to protest family separations at the U.S. border.
Therese Patricia Okoumou, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, arrived at the courthouse this morning with her face and eyes blinded with clear plastic tape.
The 45-year-old wore a blue-and-white striped sari in the style of Mother Teresa, matched a green military style jacket with a headband reading “I CARE,” spoofing a jacket that first lady Melania Trump wore at the height of the family-separation policy.
The self-blinded Okoumou was guided into the building with the help of members of the New York activist group Rise & Resist and the Rev. Billy Talen, pastor of the radical performance group Church of Stop Shopping.
She faced up to 18 months in prison but was sentenced this morning only to five years of probation, plus 200 hours of community service.
In the courtroom, the crowd of Okoumou’s supporters hissed in unison when U.S. District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wryly noted that, despite her Okoumou’s repeated motivation to free imprisoned migrant children, she had climbed the Statue of Liberty to raise publicity not to rescue a child.
As the hearing kicked off Gorenstein patiently demanded Okoumou remove the tape from her face and later chided her for offering no apology to the law enforcement officers whose lives she endangered by forcing them to bring her down.
“A person with some empathy might have said I’m sorry I risked the lives of others,” Gorenstein said, remarking that instead Okoumou said at trial she would do it again. “In her view, the cause outweighs the risks to others.”
Last month, Gorenstein visited Liberty Island with Okoumou and her attorneys to gauge firsthand the danger she posed to tourists and the first responders.
Okoumou spoke to the court for four minutes, addressing her sentencing judge as a stand-in for the United States.
“Your society is not advanced civilization, your honor,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.
“You are a society that has lost any sense of reasoning,” Okoumou continued. “You are lacking any sense of human decency.”
“My fight will continue in prison if you throw me in the cages,” Okoumou declared.
After the hearing, Okoumou’s attorney, famed civil rights attorney Ron Kuby called the length of probation excessive in light of Gorenstein’s willingness to potential terminate early.
Kuby had argued in court that history “does not remember fondly” figures who demand unjust consequences for acts of civil disobedience.
In the Department of Justice’s sentencing recommendation last week, Manhattan Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Kalikow asked for the 30-day minimum incarceration term and three years of probation for Okoumou in hopes it would deter her from her continuing political spectacles.
During a December bench trial, U.S. District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein found the Staten Islander guilty of three misdemeanor charges — trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct — for her Independence Day stunt.
Though he had released her on bail, Gorenstein grounded Okoumou earlier this month to home detention following her latest climbing spectacle, which put the acrobatic activist atop a Texas detention center used to hold immigrant children.
Okoumou faces up to six months in prison for charges arising from the Texas climb.
The night before her sentencing, Okoumou urged supporters to pack the courtroom for sentencing hearing and to donate to her personal page. “Don’t listen to the judge,” she wrote on Instagram, “instead – GoFundMe in his name. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein doesn’t put food on my table – you do.”
Okoumou appeared to despair, writing on the fundraising page: “If God deems it necessary for me to join the children in cages, so be it.”