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.