This article was inspired by numerous reports circulating online regarding the disappearance of more than 64,000 African American females throughout the country. I witnessed a tell-tale sign of this epidemic firsthand after stumbling upon a group of teenage sex workers making their rounds on Western Ave. (South Los Angeles). After surveilling these young women and the manner in which they interacted with solicitors, I immediately contacted my editor to discuss writing their story.
On that day, I saw at least six or seven teenage African American females walking southbound in pastel colored undergarments. They looked so young.
According to Sgt. Robert Perez (LAPD), these girls were possibly new arrivals, runaways from foster care, or lured here from South Carolina, Maryland, New York, or another state where teenage African Americans are heavily recruited.
To get a better understanding of human trafficking and its impact on young Black girls, I interviewed Richard Byrd, a former pimp.
“I became a pimp, because the pimp was a legendary figure in my neighborhood [South Los Angeles],” he explained. “A pimp was the epitome of Black masculinity. He had the bright colored Cadillac, he had mystical magic power over women, that was me.”
Byrd walks with a limp—not the usual limp associated with a pimp walk, but a limp that is permanent. He says it’s the result of a beating he received 30 years ago while he was an inmate at the California Department of Corrections.
According to Byrd, during the mid to late 1970’s, the construction of the Trans Alaska-pipeline system—a pipeline and pump system built to move crude oil from Alaska to the Valdez Marine Terminal—caused a demand for street sex. During this era, many African American men were working on the pipeline and were isolated from their wives and girlfriends. The local native female Alaskan prostitutes were not attractive to the pipeline’s Black laborers, so local pimps recruited “more attractive” prostitutes from South Los Angeles and other urban townships. The girls who were selected were transported to Alaska, establishing a pipeline of human trafficking.
“Prior to the pipeline project, we [sex traffickers] would take our women to major sporting events like Super Bowls, major boxing events, and different conventions,” explained Byrd. “Alaska became extremely profitable because it was under the radar—we could do our business without having to worry about being supervised by law enforcement.”
Byrd believes the LAPD didn’t care about human trafficking as long as he and other pimps didn’t venture outside of the ghetto. One of the more popular streets for a pimp to sell his merchandise (Figueroa Boulevard), was nicknamed “the ghetto stroll.”
“In the 1970’s, they [law enforcement] were more concerned with shaking down illegal gambling joints that missed payments. In the 1980s, the crack epidemic hit. Street sex became more attainable, and pimps couldn’t make a substantial profit. Many of them also became addicted to crack. Prostitution wasn’t much of a concern to police in my opinion.”
Byrd says that girls who’re lured into prostitution usually fit a specific description.
“You have to understand the female brain which does not develop until the mid-20s and most women who get involved in prostitution are from dysfunctional homes. I would get most of my girls from high schools when their home life was sh*t. I don’t care if you are Eastern European or Black, the bottom line is poverty.
“One thing I would pay close attention to was the condition of their shoes. If a female had on a pair of shoes that were run down, she was an ideal prospect because in most cases, it meant she lived in poverty, had low self-esteem and possibly wanted a more glamorous life. Once I was able to develop a relationship with her, I would have her move away from her family and isolate her.”
He added, “I also had some of my girls do the recruiting. You would be amazed by how often sex workers are introduced to prostitution by family members. However, it is my belief that the pimp is a scapegoat, the real villain is the federal government. They created pimping by creating poverty and substandard schools in the inner city. You better believe more young Black girls are going to end up on the street during the Trump Administration.”
Byrd says that Black women who sell their bodies for profit are usually trying to escape from poverty and can’t find conventional options to provide for themselves.
“If you look at the judicial system, during my era, its laws were set up to give Black prostitutes harsher sentences, and the White male consumers would receive a lighter sentence for soliciting. This was because back in the day there were no in-depth studies on the African American sex worker and how she got involved in the industry. Most government prosecutors developed legal policy based on fiction, books like “Iceberg Slim,” where writers convinced readers that most prostitutes wanted to sell their body.”
According to the 2015 Uniform Crime Report compiled by the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were a total of 39,184 arrests for prostitution and commercialized vice (the unlawful promotion of or participation in sexual activities for profit). Of that total, 17,084 were White and 12,513 were Black.
Side Note: White and Hispanic individuals are usually lumped into the same category. This is indicated in small print in the footnote section of nearly every FBI report. Contrastingly, the percentage of Blacks arrested for prostitution is significantly more than what appears on the report, at least 40 percent.
Print and online articles have made references to domestic violence, sex trafficking, and organ harvesting as reasons for so many missing African American females. Holly Morris, the Community Outreach Specialist for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, agrees that many of the disappearances could be the result of domestic violence, and the sex trade. However, she believes organ harvesting may be a bit farfetched.
“We have gone into foreign countries like Mexico to investigate organ harvesting and most of those cases are so hard to prove,” she explained.
To gain a different perspective, OW recently consulted a social worker who believes that organ harvesting may be connected, at least in part, to the reported disappearances of African American girls across the U.S. She asked to be kept anonymous, so we will call her “Susan.”
Susan remembers a teenager two to three years ago, who had been convinced to leave Florida and travel to Los Angeles after being promised the opportunity to make a lot of money working as a model. Weeks later she had been tattooed and was prostituting on the streets of South Los Angeles. One day, she was able to break away from her owners, two African American adult male gang members, who would monitor her as she was working. Scared for her life, the young girl scraped up her earnings and caught a flight home.
In Florida, she was eventually identified by a pimp who recognized her tattoo as belonging to a west coast crew he was familiar with. He immediately contacted them and asked if they were missing a worker. The gang members verified her description and instructed their Florida comrade to detain her. As luck would have it, this call was being monitored by the FBI.
Working for the Los Angeles Department of Social Services, Susan was assigned to cover the Florida minor’s case. She remembers hearing a recording of the gang members deliberating over her client’s fate.
“They were initially going to kill her,” she explained. “That was before one of them stated ‘I will sell that b*tch to the cartel.’ His partner replied, ‘Why would they buy her?’ to which he replied, ‘I don’t know. Maybe for sex, maybe for her kidneys.’”
Articles describing 64,000 missing African American females have appeared in the Huffington Post, Ebony.com, The Atlanta Star News and numerous other print and online publications.
I recently corresponded with a colleague who attended Washington D.C.’s annual Black Press Week. She approached several reporters and asked them to comment on the mind-blowing number of missing Black women throughout the city and across the nation. No one could provide information as to where this number came from.
“According to our National Crime Information Center (NCIC) there were 787,390 African American females entered into the NCIC database as missing persons between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2016,” explained FBI agent Morris. “Of that number, 7,940 of those African American female records are currently still active. Truthfully many of them are likely dead as a result of domestic violence, some have transitioned into other illegal means of acquiring income, some remain lost in the prostitution cycle, and some simply, don’t want to be found.”
Benjamin Chavis, Ph.D, president and CEO of the National Newspaper Association, was asked about the difference in missing African American females in reference to the 64,000 reported by various African American publications, and the 7,940 reported by the FBI.
He said simply, “We as African American journalists must check the sources of the facts at least three to four times. This checking must include verifiable national statistics. We don’t want to do anything to skew the facts, it is in Black America’s interest to stand only behind what is factual.”
Even though the numbers circulating seems to be somewhat innacurate, at least it spurred a national conversation on a very real, very serious problem in the African American community.”
To report a missing person, visit http://www.lapdonline.org/lapd_adult_missing_persons_unit/ or call (213) 996-1800.
The Black and Missing Foundation also does a great deal to find and rescue our lost ones and can be contacted at www.blackandmissinginc.com, or (877) 972-2634.