TMO congregations begin to map out crime abatement strategy
12 TMO congregations gave up Saturday morning to map out 2014 strategy
Last Sunday four MDUMC Sunday School classes had Marilyn Green of Chapelwood UMC talk about human trafficking in Houston. She gave alarming statistics concerning numbers of women and men who are caught in the web of crime brought on by sex trafficking and labor trafficking and how insidious the results are for those caught in this web of crime and degradation. It is estimated by Children at Risk that there are over 300 massage parlors in Houston and hundreds of cantinas where sex, drugs, and other crime is common place.
I wondered how many of these establishments were in the Memorial, Alief, East and North Houston. Interestingly a preponderance of establishments were in about a three mile circle around Galleria, but you can rest assured that at least one is close to you. These activities don’t include street prostitution and the Hot Sheet motels that exist throughout Harris county. And if you want to know what goes on in a massage spa, just go to the internet headings on Houston Massage Parlors and pull the articles on “spa etiquette “.
At the end of the lesson most everyone wanted to know what could be done since we understand that this is not a victimless crime and that along with the trafficking there is also other crime including drug dealing, murder, and organized crime activities. Numerous workshops are being conducted in Houston and Texas. They are quite informative but lack much in the way of specifics for dealing with the issue whether it be labor trafficking or sex trafficking. And it can be quite frustrating trying to close down one of these establishment. I have a friend who lives in the county and some homeowners found out about a massage parlor doing illicit activities. There was a sting conducted and the place was shut down, but within a week it was open again. This is only one example of the difficulty in policing such activities.
One action that has worked in the past is that neighborhoods have banded together to change the neighborhood. In the Best elementary area of Alief ( see “Six Brave Mothers and Grandmothers”) the neighborhood was successful in getting prostitutes off the streets around the school. In Spring Branch families were able to shut down for good, a cantina where there was prostitution, drug dealing, and violent crime. Both of these efforts were done with the help of TMO to organize the community to make changes that would make families safer. But it took working together and a belief that people were entitled to live in a safe and affirming environment. And you can’t just do it once. You have to be persistent and keep working to keep the neighborhood safe.
Over the past few months TMO congregations have been conducting house meetings around issues affecting their neighborhoods and families. The main concerns that emerged were crime and safety issues. Last Saturday about fifteen TMO congregations met to discuss these concerns and to map out a strategy to address them. As a next step congregations will continue to have house meetings to enlist a larger constituency that is willing to work for change. The first action step beyond Saturday will be to invite the Captain of the different policing districts where citizens can lay out concerns and work with the police to develop a strategy. Next steps after that will be as a result of those discussions. Here are some possible ways to address the issues. None of these will be easy to accomplish by a small group and they may take years to accomplish. And as you will note it may be necessary to go to the state legislature to get action.
1. Tear down abandoned houses and buildings that are a haven for elicit activities
2. Develop strict rules on licensing of masseuses and check on ages of these persons, immigration statues, and state credentialing.
3. Stiffen occupancy standards for Massage parlors.
4. Stricter restrictions on gaming parlors.
5. Work for more rehabilitation for sex workers including drug and alcohol rehab, housing and job training.
The question we all have to ask ourselves is whether these issues are important to us. It’s not enough to say that we don’t like it that little girls are becoming sex slaves at twelve or thirteen or that immigrants are indentured and may never work off what is asserted that they owe to their captors. Houston is a wonderful city, but we have a lot of issues that effect the quality of life for us all. We may run to the perceived safety of the suburbs and allow some of our neighborhoods to be hollowed out with poverty and crime. We know that as the faith community we are taught that God has created us all as sacred, and even though we do not personally know these least among us, we are still called to not only be compassionate, but also to be angry enough to seek justice.