By Hannah Berman

Let’s talk about Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, of Staten Island. She was born and educated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but records show she has lived in New York for at least 10 years. A few months ago, she joined a group known as Rise and Resist and, according to group member Jay Walker, she has been taking part in about one protest a week with this crowd.

She is one busy gal! On Wednesday, the group unfurled an “Abolish ICE” banner at the base of the Statue of Liberty, but the protests weren’t enough for Therese, who I will refer to as Terry for purposes of simplicity and because it shortens my typing time.
Terry has been living in this wonderful country that welcomed her with open arms. Coming from the Congo, which has a truly horrid history, it’s amazing that she finds so much to protest about here in the United States. There has been unrest, rebellion and civil war in the Congo for more than 60 years, leaving nearly six million dead. Soldiers and armed rebels wield rape as a weapon, and recent studies find an increase in rapes even by civilians.

Apparently, Terry never heard that charity begins at home and that she should be protesting the brutal and inhumane policies in her birthplace, where widespread poverty has left tens of thousands of children vulnerable, rather than the immigration policy of the United States. The Congo seems like the worst place in the world to be a woman or a child. As this “paradise” is Terry’s birthplace, one might question why she finds so much to be unhappy about in this country.

The Congo has quite a history. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “the country that began as a king’s private domain, known as the Congo Free State, evolved into a colony, known as the Belgian Congo. It became independent in 1960 and was called the Republic of the Congo. Later it underwent several more name changes — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then Zaire, and back again to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The place is the product of a complex pattern of historical forces. Some are traceable to the precolonial past, others to the era of colonial rule, and others still to the political convulsions that followed in the wake of independence. All, in one way or another, have left their imprint on Congolese societies.” None of them good!

The country managed to produce a revolutionary like Terry, who decided that the best way to stage a protest was to climb the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day. Rise and Resist group member Walker was worried lest she be injured. Personally, I was more worried about injury to our Lady of the Harbor. But my main concern was for the safety of the responders, two NYPD cops, who were charged with rescuing Terry from her own folly. They went up there to bring her safely down. She’s lucky I’m not in charge, because my choice would have been to leave her right where she was and not to put the lives of two cops in jeopardy by attempting a rescue that was challenging due to the slopes up there.

Thanks to this stunt, the entire area had to be evacuated and cordoned off, and those who had planned to visit the site had to leave or couldn’t come at all. The celebration of the day was ruined for thousands of people. Spokesman Jerry Willis said, “People have the right to speak out. I don’t think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it.”

President Trump caved to enormous political pressure and signed an executive order meant to end the separation of families at the border by detaining parents and children together for an indefinite period. “We’re going to have strong borders, but we are going to keep the families together,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the order in the Oval Office. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

But ending the practice of separating families still faces legal and practical obstacles. But referring to our president as a Nazi and claiming he is keeping the children in enclosed areas that are no better than concentration camps is untenable and an insult to every camp survivor, who knows firsthand that these are not concentration-camp-like compounds.

Since Terry is so unhappy with U.S. immigration policy, she might want to consider getting out of our country and heading back to the Congo. That’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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