Last month, I came across a petition with over 90K signatures calling the San Francisco Police Department to reopen the case of Jaxon Sales, a 20-year-old, queer Filipino man who died due to an overdose in the home of an older, affluent 41-year-old white man. The Sales’ family believes that authorities overlooked many crucial details in their son’s case, the most glaring being another overdose just weeks before Sales’ death in the same white man’s apartment.
As I read through the details, I was fuming with anger, tears forming in my eyes. I felt despair, sadness and rage because I immediately recognized a pervasive ongoing tragedy: a young person of color found dead in the arms of an older white john and the authorities don’t care. The authorities do not care because this victim is a minority – gay and Asian; or in their code – sexual deviant and insignificant. Instead of investigating, the authorities would rather write off Sales’ death as a standard drug overdose because it’s easier than spending the same resources it takes toward finding missing white women.
But any person of color – especially of the queer and trans community – upon hearing this case would understand that something much more insidious and complex is transpiring. The hints of nonconsensual drug use, the undercurrent of racial fetishization and sexual predation, and the clear age, power and wealth imbalances between Sales and the man who last saw him, suggest something much more ominous and sadly familiar.
I immediately recognized a pervasive ongoing tragedy: a young person of color found dead in the arms of an older white john, and the authorities don’t care.
Men like him are not an anomaly. They have existed as long as sexual conquest has been a pillar of colonization. They fetishize wielding power over people of color and travel the world to seek out the most vulnerable in our community.
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Currently, the 41-year-old man remains unidentified, but I know what type of person he is. I can hear him, see him. He only invites Asian men into his home. He’s the same type of man who often approaches me: white, almost twice my age, often trying to lure me into meeting up with money or drugs, even though I do not indicate wanting either. I attract these men because I fit a dehumanizing orientalist fantasy – an Asian twink, small in stature, youthful, perceived as submissive and in need of an older white gentleman savior who can teach me the ways of the world.
One of these men lives in the penthouse of my building. I know he lives in the penthouse because he invited me up to one of his parties once when he spotted me in the elevator, giving me the once-over. I never went. I walk the other way now when I see him, and I won’t get into the elevator when he’s there. Even so, my doorman who knows me by name has once mistaken me for one of his guests. This man is notorious for only inviting Asian men to his home, and I was confused for one of them. Later he found me on social media, so I blocked him. I will not allow myself to empower him.
“He only invites Asian men into his home. He’s the same type of man who often approaches me: white, almost twice my age, often trying to lure me into meeting up with money or drugs, even though I do not indicate wanting either.”
But I worry that isn’t always a choice for POCs who’ve fallen victim to these predators of many disguises. Sometimes they come in younger more charmingly handsome forms, like a shapeshifting demon. 30 years ago, Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 people (at least), most of them young men of color. One of his victims, 14-year-old Laotian-American Konerak Sinthasomphone actually escaped, but was handed back to Dahmer by the police. In the same vein of horror, Ed Buck — known as the “Doctor Kevorkian” of West Hollywood – was convicted last year and recently sentenced for the deaths of two black men – Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean – and forcibly injecting many more with meth. Buck was crafty: He used his work in civil rights as a cloak for an underlying racial fetish and then he would exploit the financial situations of Black men for sex. And most recently, Lauren Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old black woman, who died of an overdose was last seen with 37-year-old white man Matthew LaFountain. The police called him a ‘really nice guy,” according to the Smith-Fields family.
In all these examples we see similar parallels and patterns to Sales. The police let white men off the hook and, in some instances, even enable and protect them. Afterward, the victims are treated as a number in a stream of inevitable mishaps – at-risk individuals engaging in risky behavior, case closed. I do not doubt that if the roles were reversed—if the victims were white and the last people they were seen with were POC—the media and police would scrutinize every detail and turn the deaths into a national spectacle until the truth was revealed. But with our communities, our bodies are interchangeable and our identities too complicated to factor into America’s metric of purity. And older white predators know how to take advantage of this. They set up traps for us and understand they will suffer little or no consequence when we fall into them.
History is repeating itself and authorities must start listening to people of color before another preventable death occurs.
Smith-Fields’ family is suing the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut and its police department, alleging that police violated their civil rights and were grossly insensitive to their daughter’s death. One detective has already been placed on leave for his mishandling of the case. History is repeating itself and authorities must start listening to people of color before another preventable death occurs. In recent developments, Sales’ parents, Angie and Jim, met with SFPD Chief William Scott, who has agreed to review their questions and concerns. That’s a start, and hopefully more answers will be revealed about the tragedy. They must find out what really happened to Sales and what really happened to Smith-Fields. White men can no longer be afforded the benefit of the doubt simply for existing.
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Predators depend on our self-doubt and our belief in their power. So instead, we in the QTBIPOC community must believe in ourselves and the place we deserve in society. This way, when we sense danger, we won’t compromise our bodies for individuals who intend to inflict harm upon us. We’ll walk past them and continue forward until we find folks who really love and respect us. ♦
Arthur Tam is a queer Chinese-American journalist based in New York and writes at the intersection of LGBTQ politics, fashion, and pop culture. His work has appeared in Time Out Hong Kong, Dazed and Confused, Forbes, CNN Style, and Still/Loud.