[VIDEO] Hundreds March Against Sex Trafficking

Chants of “Our children are not for sale!” echoed loudly along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard as nearly 400 residents, members of church organizations, community activists and elected officials marched from Compton to Lynwood, ignoring a light evening drizzle to bring attention to the plight of children who are sexually trafficked.

“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who organized the march. “We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”

[raw]The march, which began at Palmer Avenue in Compton and ended at Helen Keller Elementary School in Lynwood, was attended by State Senator Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke and other local officials as well as community residents. Marchers followed a 1.6-mile route that is often the site where “johns” and “pimps” buy and sell young victims. Seedy motels and some businesses along the corridor also contribute to this activity.

Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.

Sheriff Baca pledged that his department would arrest the men who have sex with underage girls.

“These young girls are victims. Our strategy is not to put them in a prosecutorial place but to save them from those who should be prosecuted,” he said.

At the event, survivors moved the crowd by telling their stories and calling for action.

“As a child, I was bought and sold here on these streets,” said D’Lita Miller, who was kidnapped and raped at 11 and ultimately forced into the life of sexual exploitation. Miller, who is now an advocate for girls, with the organization Saving Innocence, urged the crowd to look at girls on the street with compassion and love.

“I stand here as a voice for the voiceless. These are not prostitutes. These are children of God. Stand up because they need you. All of you here are making a statement.”

Maria Suarez, with the National Council of Jewish Women, was purchased for $200 at the age of 15 and endured years of beatings and sexual exploitation, thanked the crowd.

“It is so beautiful to see everyone here,” she said. “We are human beings. We are not disposable. I encourage all of you to keep on fighting.”

Many residents said they turned out for the march after witnessing too many lewd acts committed by men with young victims in parked cars, or coming in and out of a row of seedy motels and the adjacent alleyways. Much of the activity occurs in front of the school or in the school parking lot when children are getting in and out of school.

The march even drew residents from Long Beach, who said that what happens on the stretch of boulevard in Compton and Lynwood can also affect their own community as well.

“We are neighbors,” said Carlos Valdez of the Coolidge Triangle community in Long Beach, noting that whenever law enforcement cracks down on the trafficking activity in Lynwood and Compton, it gets pushed into their neighborhood. “We know that this can be a cat and mouse game. So we like to get involved.”

Senator Mitchell pledged to the crowd that her first pieces of legislation in January would attack the issue of sex trafficking in California.

“If you are here tonight, that means you intend to do something about this travesty happening in our state and our country,” she said. “Thank you for making a public commitment to do the right thing for our children.”


March Against Child Sex Trafficking

Sending a clear message to traffickers and customers that the selling and buying of children for sex will not be tolerated, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Assemblymember Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, attorney and advocate Sandra Fluke, local elected officials and nearly 400 community members and concerned residents will take part in a march and rally along Long Beach Blvd., Thursday, November 21 at 6:30 pm.

The march, which will begin at Palmer Avenue in Compton and end at Carlin Street in Lynwood, will highlight the route often used by “johns” and “pimps” in the buying and selling of young victims—some of whom are as young as 12. These children are sexually exploited by traffickers and adult customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Seedy motels and some businesses along the corridor contribute to this activity.

“Many business owners, churches and homeowners in the community turn a blind eye to the activity for numerous reasons stemming from fear of retaliation to outright apathy,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “It is time to call upon elected officials, clergy, businesses leaders and most of all the community to combat and eradicate human sex trafficking on Long Beach Blvd. We are putting the buyers and sellers of sex on notice that we are coming after them. And we are sending the message to the victims that there is help out there.”

Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.

The march is only one step in bringing attention, resources and solutions to curb this illegal activity. Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Chairman Ridley-Thomas have co-authored several motions, including asking for the establishment of a county-wide protocol for dealing with children that are trafficked for sex so that the departments of Probation, Children and Family Services, Public Social Services, Mental Health, Public Health, Health Services, the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department work together to help these victims. A draft of this plan is expected by early 2014.

Also, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called on state legislators to dramatically raise fines and penalties against adults convicted of soliciting and having sex with children. The same motion also called for improved services and treatment for the victims. California Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell have expressed interest in authoring the legislation.

Click here to download the flyer in English.  Click here to download the flyer in Spanish.

Compton Creek Natural Park Now Open

Ranger Collin O’Mara–Green led a group of fourth graders through a windy path along the newly built Compton Creek Natural Park at George Washington elementary school and pointed at a dark green sage plant.

“Now I want you to touch the leaves and smell your fingers,” said O’Mara-Green, a guide for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. The oohs and ahhs filled the air as the students commented on the peppery, minty smell of the plant. Since their school grounds are entirely covered with asphalt, they had never seen a sage plant at close range before—never mind touch one. But now that they have a new nature park just out the back door, the students will be able to run in the grass, smell the flowers and learn about nature as part of their daily routine and classroom instruction.

“Since we only play on the blacktop, we never had plants to smell actually,” said 9-year-old Nathalie Razo. “These sage plants smell better than flowers.”

[raw]It was the first time students got the chance to tour the three-acre park, which was formerly an abandoned muddy field with rolling tumbleweeds. The restored park and habitat, which has a walking path and exercise equipment, is the first phase of a three-part master plan that eventually will include a youth center and headquarters for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and an urban playfield with a total of four miles of space for the entire community to enjoy.
The park was completed with the support of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Natural Resources Agency, the Coastal Conservancy, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority. In addition, the cistern will hold 127,000 gallons of water beneath the lawn to collect rainwater which will be used to water the park.

“This park is all about implementing a dream, a vision and a master plan, for a cleaner and greener watershed,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas, who helped fund the project. “We believe that Compton Creek can and should be more than a storm drain—it should be the centerpiece of revitalization and recreation within this community.”[/raw]

The park is an example of how nonprofits, schools, cities, states and counties can pull together to create a new learning environment and recreation area for all people in a community to enjoy. George Washington elementary principal Dr. Omaira Lee said the park would be embraced as an educational resource.

“This park will bring students a safe and educational connection to their natural environment,” she said.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” added Polly Escovedo, program manager for the California Natural Resources Agency. “We are hoping that this will be a model for other school districts.”

Two hundred years ago, Compton Creek was a lively creekbed with fish and rocks and all the wildlife habitat that a river area cultivates. But due to flooding dangers, the creek was cemented and turned into a storm channel many years ago—something that devastated the wildlife and habitat.
But as the sycamores, oaks, sage grasses and wildflowers begin to take root, the butterflies, hummingbirds and lizards also will return.

Indeed as 5th grader Teo Thomas noted, “Compton Creek Natural Park is more than a park to us. For many of us it is a source of pride and joy.”

Metro Construction Boom Brings Opportunities

Hundreds of jobs and scores of contracts will be available for Los Angeles business owners with the upcoming construction of the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line and other transit and highway projects. Hopeful consultants, contractors and people looking for employment turned out to the recent Metro sponsored business opportunities summit at the California African American Museum to show off their company resumes and get a foot in the door.

The construction of 12 rail lines, 15 highway projects and 2,000 bus lines, will hopefully ease congestion and pollution in Los Angeles County. But these projects could also be economic engines.

“Metro is revolutionizing this place,” said Metro CEO Arthur Leahy. “And a lot of jobs are being created.”

The Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line, which is scheduled to begin construction next year, will span 8.5 miles from South Los Angeles to the airport. The $2 billion project is seen as a catalyst for the Crenshaw corridor which is expected to see more investment and business development once the Crenshaw line is built.

“Metro is embarking on one of the largest public works programs the nation has seen in years,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is also on the Metro board and was instrumental in getting a stop on the Crenshaw line at Leimert Park. “There is a lot going on and we have an agenda of economic development, small business development and a diversity of opportunity.”

Opportunity is exactly what Erika Bennett is seeking. She is hoping her company, Total Transportation Services Inc., a trucking company that transports cement and dirt to construction sites, will become one of the sub-consultants for the large firm that was awarded the Crenshaw contract, Walsh Shea Corridor Constructors.

“This is a good meet and greet,” she said, as she walked up to the Walsh Shea table and introduced herself to the executives for the company.

Other attendees, such as Matsimela McMorris, were simply looking for a job. McMorris, who has been unemployed for more than a year, applied for a position as a custodian with Metro. But at the event, McMorris saw other possibilities, including becoming a bus operator.

“It is really good to be able to come here and meet people,” he said. “Online, you can’t really tell people your story.”

For more information and job postings: www.metro.net

West Athens Community Garden Opening Saturday

Whether you are a community resident, a garden lover, food enthusiast or healthy food activist, all are welcome to help inaugurate the brand new West Athens Community Garden this Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

The community garden, once a vacant lot and eyesore in the neighborhood, features 30 raised garden beds, fruit trees, a play structure for children, a walking path along the entire perimeter, and a rainwater cistern specifically targeting children under the age of 5. The garden event, hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas,also was made possible through a children’s collaborative program called Little Green Fingers, which is funded by First 5 LA, a non-profit education organization.

The garden, spearheaded by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, is one of eight community gardens built to help address the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County. Not only will children and their families enjoy planting new crops and learning about food cycles, but they also will have ongoing classes led by a master gardener and enjoy free cooking and nutrition lessons. The community garden will also serve as a model of sustainability with the installation of a 200 square foot rainwater cistern which can capture up to 1700 gallons of water annually–enough to provide water for most of the fruit trees that have been planted in the garden.

“This garden is a one-stop shop for play, education and healthy living,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “I look forward to seeing more gardens like this throughout the Second District.”