Statue of Liberty climber who protested migrant family separations gets probation | News | DW | 19.03.2019
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Statue of Liberty climber who protested migrant family separations gets probation

Therese Okoumou climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty to protest the separation of families at the Mexican border. Prosecutors had asked that she spend one month in prison.

A woman who was convicted of trespassing and disorderly conduct after she climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 2018, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and five years' probation on Tuesday.

Okoumou was arrested after she scaled the base of the statue and began a three-hour standoff with police, which led to the evacuation of Liberty Island on one of the statue's busiest days of the year, Independence Day. Around 4,000 people were on site at the time.

Therese Okoumou arrived at her sentencing hearing with her face covered in clear sticky tape and the words "I care" across her forehead, which US Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said she had to remove or he would not go ahead with the proceedings.

Prosecutors had wanted Okoumou to spend one month in prison, but Gorenstein said that was unnecessary to deter her from committing crimes.

Read more: In Mexico, migrants must choose between bad and worse

Rescuers retrieve Theresa Okoumou from the base of the Statue of Liberty after she staged a protest (picture-alliance/AP Photo)

Okoumou had a three-hour standoff with police when she refused to come down from the base of the Statue of Liberty

'A fight against injustice'

"This case is a fight against injustice," Okoumou, a US citizen born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said before she was sentenced in a courtroom filled with her supporters. "Well into the 21st century, some are justifying the caging of migrant children."

Okoumou and her lawyer, Ron Kuby, have said her reasoning for climbing the statue was mainly to demonstrate against the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from parents caught crossing the US border illegally.

Read more: US-Mexico border violence deepens immigration divide

Administration officials said the policy was needed to secure the border, but it was ended in June after images of separated children held in cage-like detention facilities sparked condemnation both in the US and abroad.

Watch video 26:06

Trump's national emergency: Defying democracy?

Judge: Okoumou put rescuers' lives at risk

As Gorenstein announced the sentence, he said that Okoumou had repeatedly ignored orders to descend from where she had placed herself at the feet of the statue. He said it was high enough that falling could have seriously injured or killed her or tourists below.

New York Police Department rescuers had to climb a rickety ladder and use gear similar to that of mountain climbers to safely bring her down. Gorenstein also said Okoumou tried to push down the ladder, jeopardizing rescuers.

"A person with some empathy might have said today, 'I'm sorry that I risked the lives of others,'" the judge said.

Gorenstein said he would consider a motion to end the probation early if Okoumou adhered to its terms.

law/msh (AP, Reuters)

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