Slavery on the Freedom Mile
Guidepost Audio Magazine Demo
By Richard Beattie – Length 12 minutes
The contrast is more blatant than possibly were you are yet, you probably have that same sickening feeling that it still exists.
(Number 7 Subway goes by- police officer directs traffic at Citi Field- footsteps of people walking on sidewalk)
Just a mile from Citi Field and in the middle of Queens, New York’s Chinatown, are markets and eateries that line the streets where it is said that “religious freedom” was birthed.
(People walking and shop hours calling out)
The area in Queens Village is bustling with the overt and the covert missions that include a seemingly dark underbelly of human trafficking and sex slaves mostly of Chinese women of all ages. (Woman: Massagie? Man: Not today…. She laughs- Tomorrow?)
Underground Railroad carrying you to Freedom
In the mid-17th century, Dutch administrator Peter Stuyvesant, prohibited the practice of Quakerism and for that matter many types of denominations in New Amsterdam. In Flushing a town meeting was called and a letter was written calling for Flushing Remonstrance; a precursor to the Bill of Rights, issued more than 100 years later. One of the leaders in this resistance movement was John Bowne, who, because his wife was Quaker, defied Stuyvesant’s ban and allowed Quakers to hold Quaker Meetings in his home. Bowne was deported for his actions but in 1657 a Meeting House was built next to the Flushing Armory and that is where the Freedom walk began but it did not end there.
(Ambience inside the meeting house- people whisper prayer)
Worship meetings are still held at the Meeting House. Churches line Northern Boulevard in this part of Queens. The Flushing Armory is now a youth center; where the Underground Railroad gave freedom to the slaves before and during the Civil War is said to have been one of the final “stations” of the route to freedom.
(Back to the hustle and bustle of the street)
As history to freedom is evident throughout Flushing, Chinese and Korean, Thai and Taiwanese mingle and compete for market space. Chinatown in Flushing is as much a melting pot of Asian cultures, that go beyond the Chinese. But there is a sad and disturbing undercurrent of slavery and human trafficking on every other block. The Freedom Mile lines are blurred by the guise of massage parlors, reportedly fronts for “forced prostitution.” Locals are aware, police are in force, and occasional raids are made in the neighborhood. Threats to families and kidnapped children are the pawns of crime families that smuggle people from Asian countries; and because of gang and family wars many look the other way.
Mira Sorvino: When you look into the eyes of someone who’s had all their basic human rights stolen, their dignity stripped away, treated like an object, not a human being, how can you turn your back? How can you not speak out, and act? RB: That’s the voice of Mira Sorvino the Oscar winning actress currently starring in Trade of Innocents. Mira Sorvino plays a volunteer in a shelter for girls rescued from slavery.
Mira clip: I was raised in a family where standing up for people who are mistreated or oppressed was expected. My mom marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., before I was born, and always worked to relieve suffering. My father also considered Dr. King his hero, along with the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Evangelical mandate to rescue the prisoners (Men talking at the hotel)
A group of men who are executives in evangelical media met at the Comfort Inn in Flushing earlier this month to discuss ways that evangelical churches can impact the community in reaching out to the victims of human trafficking. http://www.humantrafficking.org is a good place to start awareness of where and how human trafficking and sex slavery happens in places like in Flushing. The http://HumanTrafficking.org web site is housed in the Center for Gender Equity at the Academy for Educational Development. The Center for Gender Equity (CGE) promotes the rights of girls and women to education, health, a safe environment, economic participation, and leadership. It analyzes gender-related issues and advocates for the mobilization of leaders and institutions in support of gender and equity. CGE projects are located in Asia, Latin America, MENA, and Sub-Saharan Africa. For more information, please visit cge.aed.org. This is a web source that shows where human trafficking starts.
(Street sounds and a man asks and follows me down the street to see if I would want to get a massage? I tell him “no” then I ask where? He says “Next block.” I take his flyer and there are several businesses that advertise several “types of massages.”
In Flushing on this day though it is frustrating for neighbors to know what to do. A man distributing leaflets for a local massage parlor follows another man for nearly two blocks.
( Police activity sirens, and a station and warming hut)
MS clip: I wanted to understand what gave rise to one human being’s ability to see another as somehow less human. Eventually I became an actor, like my father, Paul Sorvino, but I always sought to fight for just causes.
In 2004 I was given my chance. Just as I learned I was carrying our first baby girl, Amnesty International asked me to be their Stop Violence Against Women campaign spokesperson. Didn’t I have the responsibility to make the world a better place for my daughter and girls everywhere? One of the topics we focused on was human trafficking: slavery—something I assumed had disappeared in the nineteenth century.
I was offered a role in the miniseries Human Trafficking. That’s when my investigation of this scourge began in earnest. I grilled members of law enforcement; I interviewed trafficking survivors and aid workers.
RB: Meanwhile in Flushing, a cavalcade of police officers and squad cars are lined up in front of a local Starbucks, they call “The Starbuck Shelter.” Across the street throngs of students wait for the Flushing Library to open. All around is evidence that something is not right and it’s like business as usual. It’s hard not to be in denial. And yet when they do a raid- it is the victim that often is prosecuted for being persecuted!
MS: Too often victims are arrested and the real criminals who profit off them go scot-free. This is why the UN recommends that law enforcement be vigilant and aware of the victim’s plight.
RB: The part we don’t see- is that an arrest can put families and neighbors at risk- so the police just look the other way.
MS: It can take time to muster the courage to disclose what they’ve been through and provide the vital collaboration needed to prosecute their enslavers. They are often too frightened of retaliation against them or their families.
RB: In Mexico City Mira wasn’t ready for what she was about to find out:
Mira: I flew down to Mexico City with the UN’s antitrafficking effort. We were then taken to an after-care center that helps girls rescued from sexual slavery. We drove through big gates past a green lawn.
We saw a group of mostly adolescent girls standing on steps in front of the main house, smiling shyly. Some little ones swirled around their knees. I thought, Can’t be. They must be daughters or sisters of the older ones.
We went upstairs to a large, bright room. Girls congregated on sofas, eager to be met but nervous to speak. A little girl, around three and a half feet tall, approached me, holding out papers. Her mouth was open in a smile; her front baby teeth were out, and the new ones had not grown in yet.
She handed me her addition and subtraction problems on lined paper. A staffer whispered, “We rescued her four months ago. Her father killed her mother in front of her when she was three, then relatives sold her to a brothel for tourists, where she worked from age four to seven.”
When the child was asked what things she had been made to do, she did not even know how to describe them. All she could say was, “Incorrectos.”
Community and Coffee
RB: One idea is to have church presence in the neighborhood perhaps with a coffeehouse that delivers a message with a mission and helps with cultural initiatives through music, broadcasts, friendship and fellowship. Maybe it could be a place where people could talk about what is happening in their communities- a safe place? Pastor: “We can begin to deal with the issues that are in front of us only through ministry, leadership, and communications,” a local pastor remarks, “but it has to be in the community, for the community and by the community.” Maybe a shelter for the run-aways.
MS: Runaway kids, homeless youths and those who have been through the foster system are particularly vulnerable. Pimps and gangs feed off these children’s need for shelter, sustenance and love with a cruel parody of care; they beat them, rape them, drug them, extract all their earnings and keep them under constant psychological submission, what one police chief calls “the chains you can’t see.”
And no matter what they might have been coerced to say, any kid under 18 involved in sexual exploitation is a victim of human trafficking.
Many other pastors in the area express concern of the growing numbers of smuggled women into the area, and are looking for ways to join forces with Asian, African American and Caucasian Evangelicals who live and work in Flushing.
MS: I was shocked to discover a huge, booming, illegal international trade in men, women and children. Impoverished people seeking a better life are tricked into slave labor; others are kidnapped or sold by their own families; children are forced into sexual slavery.
The statistics appall. Human trafficking grosses 32 billion dollars a year. The only criminal activity in the world that’s bigger is drug trafficking. MS: I soon learned that this kind of slavery and abuse is pandemic, children subjected to it from Latin America to Southeast Asia to our own United States: 100,000 to 300,000 American children are bought and sold every year. Our own children.
RB: I continue to walk the Freedom Mile and I read the plaques and signs about the people and the Freedom to worship and I think about Mira. I look to see the contrasts. Kids playing, a man playing guitar with an open case filled with dollar bills. This dual world of of the 1600’s oppression all around and the world that we are catching a glimpse of- but are afraid to talk about…
MS: In Trade of Innocents I portray the wife of an NGO worker (played by Dermot Mulroney) in Cambodia trying to help police with anti-slavery sting operations. She’s grieving the murder of her own daughter by a pedophile.
Volunteering with girls who have been rescued, helping to rehabilitate them, is a source of salvation for her. The film highlights the crucial and often unsung work of the NGOs that save and rebuild trafficking victims’ lives.
I met a group of children at the amazing “Child Protection and Development Center” for kids rescued from the streets of Pattaya. I saw them beaming with hope and excitement for the future as they showed me their clean-as-a-whistle school and their self-sustaining farm.
Their eyes brought me back to the little Mexican girl proud of her homework and the young woman determined to become a prosecutor. When you look into the eyes of someone who has been oppressed and exploited, but see there a flame of hope and strength, you are touched forever.
RB: I fly out of LaGuardia just a few short blocks from this scene in Flushing, Queens. My mind goes to a song about “Stolen Poetry.” I think about my daughters and the daughters of my friends and families and I start to pray about the daughters and mothers, aunts and friends of people so far away and I remember the verse of how we are all “uniquely made.” God has a plan for all of us- but these scenes give me doubt…and then I remember something that Mira said…
MS: You can’t look away; you are enlisted in the battle for the liberation of all suffering people wherever they may be. So they can live the life God wanted for them, that they were born for.
RB: …and that’s a truth that makes sense to me. That you and are uniquely made and in this case, we are called to rescue the prisoner. For Guidepost Audio Magazine, this is Richard Beattie, on Mission Fields, New York, coming to you from the Freedom Mile, in Flushing Queens.
This portion of Guideposts Audio Magazine was written by Richard Beattie and Mira Sorvino.
Mobilize your congregation to follow God’s call to justice. Here are some organizations that are working on this problem.
To download this story and more visit us at WMCA- World Media with a Christian Approach. To download the song “Stolen Poetry” go to WMCA.com.
Subscribe to Guideposts through by going to Guideposts.com.
Music and Lyrics sung:
Into the village where words and music flow
where all the people go to work and home.
The messenger waits and doesn’t speak the language
he looks for guys like me and he makes his pitch.
Chorus: Stolen lives, stolen children into slavery
Stolen lines, stolen progressions, stolen property.
Stolen thoughts, stolen friends, stolen poetry.
Out on the streets, the sirens wail like the wailing women.
Out of our minds, the tyrants assail the freedom of men- and women.
And this is the freedom mile
The Flushing Armory
and this is the House of friends
but when it comes to the bottom line
it is where the friendship ends?
This is the freedom to speak
from the heart and to the mind
and when one seeks office
it is the end of the poetic line…
Into the village where we use to go
to play and sing at the open mic cafe
Back to the Kingdom come and terms of reality
Water under the bridge where the trolls meet heads of Peking fowl
Viewpoint from the ridge, takes its toll on family
Stolen words, stolen music, stolen songs we used to sing
Stolen sounds, stolen metaphors, stolen innocence, closing doors.
Unsung, unheard, Undone, Undeterred, unhinged and underscored
Stolen hearts, stolen minds, stolen lyrics, stolen rhymes, stolen rhythm,
stolen blues, stolen greens and stolen from you and me,
stolen convictions, stolen poetry. Its stolen bring it home to me,
return my stolen poetry. Please return my poetry, stolen poetry…