This past week marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. That proclamation set free 3 million American slaves and put into action Lincoln’s core belief that the foundation for a free society is found in equality.
Lincoln said, “I believe the declaration that ‘all men are created equal’ is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest.” Abolishing slavery, during a very difficult and decisive time, was Lincoln’s crowning achievement when he put this principle into action.
This anniversary is a time to reflect on the issue of slavery.
Slavery is no longer a legal activity. It still exists and continues to deal in the business of selling people as a commodity. The economics of modern day slavery support the growth of an underground movement far beyond what Lincoln could have imagined. It is estimated that modern day slavery is a $32 billion enterprise involving 27 million slaves.
The truth is that where there is greed and power, we can be assured that there is exploitation and coercion leading to modern day slavery or human trafficking.
As Americans, we continue to believe that slavery is a problem only found in other places. We do not believe that it happens here. We forget that the elements that led men to enslave West Africans four hundred years ago are still present in our society today. Modern day slavery is not what happens over there. It IS what is happening here.
We must understand that modern slavery is a broad and very difficult subject to engage. Many wonder how, or if, it impacts them. We are reminded of what Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The implication is that when we turn our eyes away from injustice and oppression, then our own sense of justice will erode.
Modern day slavery is a threat to our freedoms and our sense of justice.
There is too much evidence to look the other way. Modern day slavery in America takes many shapes and forms. It encompasses commercial sexual exploitation, labor slavery as well as domestic servitude.
The common theme is that it is built upon the backs of the weak and vulnerable. We find that the exploited are often minors who are broken and hurting. It is estimated that there are 300,000 at-risk youth in this country.
We are told that in Lewiston and Auburn there are up to 400 youths who are classified by the school system as homeless or living outside the family unit. This is especially problematic for those children who fit into the categories of a “run-away” or “throw-away.”
Traffickers with promises of a place to stay, a meal to eat and drugs to soothe their pain easily coerce them into a life of further pain and suffering. Many of these are young girls who are exploited through prostitution.
Far too often we are confronted with those who say, “Not here; slavery does not happen here.” Although the signs may not be visible, it IS happening here and we urge the public to consider the impact that exploitation has on the life of a child.
At “Not Here Justice in Action Network,” we are committed to bringing collaboration between law enforcement, health care, education, faith-based organizations and social services to confront this emerging threat to vulnerable children. Our goal is to mobilize communities’ action against injustice.
Our hope is that people will collectively say, “Not Here!” to these acts of exploitation.
People can become part of the solution by learning more about human trafficking and networking with those who are actively engaged in combating it.
This annual conference, focused on raising awareness and developing counter strategies to human trafficking from prevention through rehabilitation, is a conference for everyone. Powerful messages and pertinent information about the reality of modern day slavery will be shared by national and international leaders.
The great South African minister of peace, Desmond Tutu, reminds us very poignantly that when “we are neutral in situations of injustice, then we have sided with the oppressor.”
What position will you take for vulnerable and at risk children of our communities throughout Maine? How will we lead the nation when it comes to emerging threats against our most vulnerable?
Phillip Crowell Jr. is Chief of Police of the Auburn Police Department. Bill Legere, FNP, works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Central Maine Medical Center.