A Black woman activist who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty this summer to protest the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border has been found guilty of several federal crimes.
Manhattan Judge Gabriel Gorenstein on Monday convicted Therese “Patricia” Okoumou of three misdemeanor charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with government functions, the New York Post reported. Okoumou, who climbed to the foot of the national icon on the Fourth of July, causing the evacuation of Liberty Island, is now facing 18 months in prison for her act of resistance.
“I wanted to send a strong statement that children do not belong in cages,” a teary-eyed Okoumou, 44, told the court Monday at the start of her trial, after which she pleaded not guilty. “I had been destroyed by the plight of our broken immigration system.”
The former personal trainer arrived to court sporting a cobalt blue dress with the words “Seeking Asylum is NOT a Crime” and “No human is illegal on stolen land,” seemingly in protest of President Donald Trump‘s anti-immigration policies.
In defending her motivation for taking Lady Liberty hostage, Gorenstein was unconvinced and ruled that Okoumou’s political and moral interests did not trump the law. The federal judge said that if he failed to uphold the law simply because of an offender’s motivations, he’d be undermining the law altogether.
Quoting Sir Thomas More’s discussion in the film “A Man for All Seasons” about breaking the law to get to the devil, Gorenstein said, “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide?”
“I think the defendant’s lawyers know that if I took them up on that invitation, none of us is protected by the law,” the judge added, noting he’d be in violation of his oath of office had he not found Okoumou guilty.
In court, prosecutors argued that the Congo-born naturalized U.S. citizen not only endangered herself but the NYPD officers who made the dangerous climb to rescue her and the thousands of visitors at Liberty Island that day.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels, was also in court Monday and has served as an adviser to Okoumou, the Guardian reported. Avenatti said he wasn’t at all shocked by the judge’s decision.
“The verdict today was not surprising in light of the letter of the law, but sometimes you have to stand on principle,” he said.
Okoumou held a press conference outside the courthouse after her trial where she thanked family, friends and members of the activist group Rise and Resist for their support.
“We stand on the right side of the history. I am not discouraged,” she began. “Migrant children who simply came to this country, like our ancestors did, to seek happiness, freedom and liberation. Instead of welcoming them like Lady Liberty symbolizes, instead of treating them with kindness, what we showed them is cages.
“So if I go in a cage with them, I am on the right side of history,” Okoumou continued.
When asked if she would make the climb again, the Staten Island resident replied, “yes.”
Okoumou’s defense lawyer Ron Kuby said he plans to ask the judge to sentence his client to time served at her formal sentencing on March 5, 2019.
Watch more in the clip below.
Speaking outside after her verdict: pic.twitter.com/DA4xy5yKod
— Victoria Bekiempis (@vicbekiempis) December 17, 2018