The complexities of feeling safe

It’s more than using your common sense

By: Autumn Barszczowski

If I had written this piece one week earlier, I would have focused on how paying attention to my surroundings in downtown is what makes me feel safe at Point Park.

It would have been about how people do not always pay attention like they should because they do not look up from their phones or they listen to their music too loudly.

However, on March 6, the body of Dakota James was found in the Ohio River. From that moment on, my idea of safety was turned upside down and lost amongst the unknown facts of this case.

It was no longer just about paying attention and being able to save myself by controlling my own actions. After a case so close to home leaves more questions than answers, it is hard to prepare yourself to face the day as you usually do.

I have been going Downtown for school since I was 14 years old. That means the coming fall semester marks the beginning of my sixth year as a commuter student. I thought I knew a lot more than most about staying safe in the city.

In fact, the moment my family knew I would be in Downtown Pittsburgh, they began lecturing me on the importance of always keeping my head up and surveying my surroundings. In doing this, they often talked about the situations that everyone fears, including the one that James’ family has been facing since his disappearance.

Up until this point, I thought that being aware of my surroundings was enough. That if I stayed alert and used my “common sense” by never traveling alone or not going home on the bus after a certain time, I would be fine. Surveying my surroundings was supposed to be enough to keep me safe on my way to classes.

Clearly, this is not the case. There are tragedies that can happen no matter how much you look around or how many precautionary steps you take to protect yourself. We cannot control the actions of others simply by controlling our awareness of those people.

Paying attention does not save us from everything. It can help us in small situations like avoiding traffic when crossing the street and staying away from that one student you just cannot stand, but not all situations are that simple.

I feel for the James family and the loss they are enduring. I can’t tell you how future situations like this will pan-out or my ideas on what should happen in terms of safety of going forward. These scenarios are complicated and the solutions will probably not be simple.

All I can tell you is that I hope the family and friends of Dakota James can heal from this loss and that the city can continue to work on creating the best solution for us. It will not come easily, but I hope that with some effort we can grow to make our home a safer place.

Originally published in the Globe
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