On July 4, 2018, Patricia Okoumou climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest the separation of children and parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Okoumou was eventually convicted of trespassing, disorderly conduct, and interference with agency functions. She could have received up to 18 months in jail.
On Tuesday, the 45-year-old arrived at a federal court in Manhattan with her face covered in plastic tape for sentencing. Okoumou, who’s no stranger to making a statement or protesting, told reporters it was to protest limits on her freedom of expression.
Judge Gabriel Gorenstein ordered her to remove it before sentencing could begin, in which Okoumou complied.
She received five years probation and 200 hours of community service, despite a request from federal prosecutors for 30 days in prison and three years probation.
“I do not need probation, and I do not belong in prison,” Okoumou told the judge. “I am not a criminal.”
At a bail revocation hearing earlier this month, Gorenstein ordered home detention with an electronic bracelet to monitor her whereabouts. He also told her to seek employment. Ironically, federal prosecutors argued that she needed to be incarcerated in order to deter her from “breaking the law in the future” after she was arrested again during a climbing protest over immigration in Texas.
Her attorneys argued that incarceration would prevent Okoumou from obtaining employment.
A judge remarked at her last hearing that he was concerned that she had a financial need for publicity and that in order to get donations, she broke the law.
The assumptions by the federal prosecutor and the judge are rich. Why would it be assumed that Patricia Okoumou would become a career criminal because she protests injustice by the government? In fact, protest is one of the essential building blocks of this nation.
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects her right to protest, although there have been some manipulation of that right by lawmakers. In 2012, H.R. 347, a federal law dealing with protest, was amended to make it a crime to “disrupt the orderly conduct of government business or official functions” in areas where the Secret Service protection is provided.
When Trump was elected president, Okoumou said that protesting became a calling. She told NPR that she climbed the Statue of Liberty to bring attention to the thousands of undocumented immigrant children held in US detention facilities. Okoumou wanted to make Americans think about those children during the nation’s birthday celebration.
She was born and raised in the Republic of Congo, and recalls when civil war broke out in 1993.
“My country was going through turmoil,” Okoumou told The Gothamist. “We wanted to embrace democracy as a country and we wanted change.”
She plans to continue her work with Rise and Resist.
“My work here will continue as far as my activism highlighting the atrocity of this administration,” she said after her last court appearance.
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— (Official) Patricia Okoumou (@POkoumou) March 19, 2019