Neighbors hope peace walk helps quell human trafficking concerns

Neighbors hope peace walk helps quell human trafficking concerns
24th Street and Esmond Avenue in June 2022.

Neighbors who live just east of 23rd Street say they are fed up with the human trafficking that has moved into their neighborhood. This Friday, they plan to join members of the community organization Faith in Action for a peace walk through the area, something they hope will bring attention to this issue.

Those who live at the western edge of the North and East neighborhood say sex workers gather at various times of the day and night and congregate along 23rd Street, where they have been a fixture for the last decade or so.

Recently, the group has moved further into the neighborhood, prompting concerns from residents, many of which are raising families and are worried about what's going on in their midst.

Jan Mignone, president of the North and East Neighborhood Council, has lived all of her life in Richmond and is well acquainted with the problems in her neighborhood, especially human trafficking.

"I see them on my way to work at 6:30 in the morning. They moved up here from where they have been for a long time on 23rd, and you see them from Garvin to McBryde. You can tell many of them are way too young; there are little kids out there," Mignone said.

As human trafficking has pushed further into the neighborhood and sex workers have begun to conduct their business in front of people's homes, residents have taken action, with many investing in additional lighting and video cameras in an attempt to curb the behavior.

"People are putting up cameras and lighting, there's one neighbor on 25th Street who has put up all kinds of lighting to scare them off. He has kids and doesn't want them to see any of this, Mignone said, adding, "The problem is getting much worse."

This week Mignone sent out an email to north and east residents inviting them to the planned peace walk.

"A group of residents and others will be doing a peace walk starting at Wendell Park at 6:30 pm. Not sure if you know, but the prostitutes have moved from 23rd St to 24th Street between Garvin and McBryde and we are tired of what they are doing to our neighborhood. Please join us at Wendell Park (26th and Esmond) on Friday the 21st at 6:30 pm," Mignone wrote.

Neighbor Linda McKee hopes the peace walk will highlight what has become a problem of human trafficking in full view.

"They're out earlier and earlier each day, I drove down 24th Street, and there was a woman at every corner, McKee said."It was only 5 pm."

One Sunday morning last year, neighbors rose to find the street blocked off and police investigating the death of a woman. Police reports show the woman was a sex worker stabbed to death following a disagreement.

McKee was one of the neighbors who watched the police investigate the murder. It was her security cameras that caught the audio of the woman's agonizing cries during the stabbing.

Marilynn Hanson was 7 years old when she moved to Richmond in 1977. She's not happy with the direction the neighborhood has taken.

"My family had settled in Richmond in the early 1900s. My great-uncle had been a councilman for many years and mayor. It deeply saddens me to see what has happened to our city. I can’t believe more is not done to eliminate the constant problem that started well over 10 years ago with prostitution.

Our home is one of the few with an alley. I have to have surveillance cameras around the property to keep my elderly parents safe. It’s heartbreaking to see these women reduced to “servicing” their usually drunken clients, or using the alley or our front porch as a bathroom or cleaning station between clients.

I find that to be so degrading to these women who deserve a better life, and the help to get there. I would like to see the men who are caught using these women’s services photos posted online, on billboards, and everywhere. If the problem was attacked that way and they don’t want the public to know what they are up to, it would dry up the demand for prostitutes.

As long as there is a demand, pimps will continue to provide a never-ending supply of young women. These women deserve so much more than that sort of life," Hanson said.

A forum was held at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall in January of this year to discuss human trafficking problems along 23rd Street and how it was affecting businesses and homes in the area.

The 23rd Street Working Corridor Group has also been formed to discuss potential solutions to this persistent problem.

"Andy's Donuts closes at 10 pm now," Mignone said of the local favorite known for providing 24-hour service, which recently had to reduce its hours due to an influx of crime.

Upcoming forum to discuss human trafficking
Richmond residents are invited to learn about human trafficking at a community forum at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Mignone and McKee both say things need to change, and they hope for improvements in the legal system to help ease the situation. Mignone thinks the peace walk is a good idea, but isn't likely to fix the situation.

"It isn't going to run them out, but they might move back down to 23rd, so they won't be right there anymore."

What: Peace Walk hosted by Faith in Action

When: Friday, April 21 at 6:30 pm

Where: Meet at 26th and Esmond Avenue

Read more