Rest In Power, Dakota James

I read with mixed emotions the news that the body of 23-year-old Dakota James had been found in the Ohio River near Neville Island. Dakota has been missing since January 25, 2017.

There’s no appropriate comment, nothing I can think of that would bring comfort to the exhausted family who lost a 23-year-old adult child and sibling. We might speak about closure, but that oversimplifies the lingering questions that can likely never be answered – what happened between those final camera frames and the discovery of his body? Perhaps the autopsy will disclose some clue, but perhaps it will simply tell us that Dakota was the victim of an undetermined accident.

My heart breaks for the James’ family. I hope they find some peace and comfort as they grieve their loss.

I fear that the unrelenting rumors about serial killers and the deadly power of rivers will continue to circulate. I’ve been contacted multiple times by people positing this hypotheses and even when I do my best to provide the factual information about previous missing persons, they don’t really seem to believe me. More accurately, they don’t want to believe me.

What bothers me even grieves me is that their insistence on looking for one pattern overwhelms their capacity to see the actual patterns. From the family, this is understandable but from the general public – it is not acceptable. We have to pay attention to what is happening versus speculating about what might have happened.

For example, we have had four suspicious incidents involving 23 year-old LGBTQ neighbors since early November: Claire McClimans shot a coworker who was harassing her in Hermitage, Shanique Sanders was shot in cold blood by a friend in the middle of the street on the South Side, Sean Hake was shot and killed by police after a domestic dispute also in Hermitage and then Dakota’s disappearance.

Four young people the same age in the LGBTQ community within a 75 mile range within THREE months? When is the last time that happened?

These crimes are not connected in terms of victims, perpetrators, locations, etc. But they are connected in that they illustrate that life for our young adults is not easy in this neck of the woods. That resources for young adults are not sufficient. That resources invested to find their truths are not equitable.  These are good kids, young adults holding jobs and paying bills and spending time with friends and family.

The pattern is the society we’ve built. We stand in the way of workplace protections, access to mental health supports, and gun control. We encourage toxic intoxication culture and refuse to examine our own excesses. We don’t invest in programs for young adults that respect their authentic identities. We don’t incorporate intersectionality into our approach to building supports or even responding when the unthinkable happens.

I urge you to remain supportive of the James family as they walk this next chapter in their grief. But I urge you to also show your investment in the lives of other young people like Dakota. Here are some options

  1. Support Claire McClimans and donate to her crowdfundraiser
  2. Get involved with youth programming through Persad as a volunteer or donor.
  3. Support M.A.D.E. I.T. working with teens to help them make alternative decisions (this is the only program I know of that works specifically with black MOC lesbians)
  4. Like pages on Facebook working with youth: Dreams of Hope, THRIVE, Washington County GSA, Proud Haven, PRISM Youth of Beaver County
  5. Get involved with the Pennsylvania Youth Congress which is a statewide organization working with young adults in their early 20’s.
  6. Read the #AMPLIFY posts submitted by young adults – we have A LOT.

Rest in power, Dakota. May you, Shanique and Sean find peace and may we always remember your life stories. Erykah Tijerina



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  • “encourage toxic intoxication culture and refuse to examine our own excesses” This part, to me, points largely to the shortcomings within the “work” of the Delta Foundation. From what I understand, their massive annual budget is spent primarily on holding a series of large social events, while only a small fraction goes towards addressing the crucial needs you highlighted above.

    Thanks for this excellent piece. You’ve provided me with perspective that I might not have otherwise considered. We need more of this.

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