In their own words: Two years on, public reflects on Lawson case

Nearly 2 years after slaying of Josiah Lawson, a community reflects on the case

David Josiah Lawson (Times-Standard file)

Talking about David Josiah Lawson — the 19-year-old Humboldt State University student fatally stabbed in Arcata on April 15, 2017 — isn’t an easy task for Humboldt County residents.

But in the two years since Lawson’s death, many have found things to speak out about: that Lawson was a young black man; the case Arcata law enforcement built against the initial suspect; and the decision last month by a criminal grand jury not to indict anyone in Lawson’s killing.

Activists have spoken up time and again. “Justice for Josiah” vigils are held monthly. And Lawson’s mother, Michelle-Charmaine Lawson, has shared her grief with the community and pushed local officials to find justice for her son.

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn said his officers are still investigating the case; a 24-hour tip line, 707-825-2590, asks people to identify anyone who might have attended the party where Lawson was stabbed.

“We’re going to continue to work with the Lawson family and the entire Arcata community to ensure that those who are responsible for the death of Josiah Lawson are held accountable,” Ahearn said. “We need the public’s assistance … it’s crucial to providing info that will bring this case to a conclusion.”

Ahead of the two-year anniversary of Lawson’s death, the Times-Standard approached nearly 100 people on the streets of Arcata, asking: “How have you been impacted by David Josiah Lawson’s death? How do you believe the community has been impacted in the two years since?”

Twenty people agreed to go on the record. Many who refused said they had heard of the Lawson story but didn’t know enough. Some said they felt unsafe speaking out about a slain black man, since they were either black themselves, or part of other marginalized communities, or reluctant to attach their name to such controversial issues as race, policing and social justice.

Here are the people who agreed to share their thoughts:

(Editor’s note: App users, swipe through the gallery to view replies.)

Mikayla Taylor, Arcata: Racism has been here the entire time I’ve been here, from before I’ve been here. We had been telling people that HSU students didn’t feel safe in Arcata … . Three or four months later, Josiah dies. The gross incompetence and the lack of caring. I’ve heard Charmaine talk about it. Every time, you can feel her pain. I think this is a beautiful place, but I wish I never came up here.
Brian Brown, Arcata: It’s disturbing to me to see that someone could be arrested with witnesses and tangible evidence and go free. If, in fact, the racial roles had been switched, Josiah would have been locked up.
Rick DeVol, Eureka: We feel that justice has not been served. The police department needs to step up.
Lucia Stein, McKinleyville: (Lawson) is a person who needs equality. It’s good that people are fighting for justice and against racism.
Jason Coley, Trinidad: Our community felt the pain of it. We definitely have tension with race. I hope we can heal.
Jesus Galvan, Arcata: It’s really messed up how there’s so much evidence pointing toward a guy and you can’t do anything about it. That’s not justice.
Jordan Christensen, Arcata: What Josiah’s death brought to this community is the fact that it’s really a caste system here in Humboldt. And the police force, in themselves, really pick and choose who they enforce. They decide who they’re going to protect and who they won’t.
Danny Reyes, Arcata: It shows how we minorities have nobody backing us up in the community. When something happens to us, nobody cares.
Shaylah Deroode, Arcata: (Lawson was stabbed) right around the corner from my house. It’s sad that we overlook all the things that go on like that because they are going to continue to happen. It breaks my heart. We don’t feel safe anymore.
Brian Fagundes, Arcata: It’s nice to see that there’s still continued interest and efforts going into trying to keep this from being buried under all the layers of details. That’s one thing I appreciate about this community: They don’t let go or give up.
Ariel Lora, Arcata: The posters on every window show me that people are not forgetting. They’re keeping the information alive. His face and spirit are still right there. These issues are moving this town forward. I’m glad people are taking it seriously.
Betsy Roberts, Arcata: I have so many mixed feelings about it. If our police are guilty of any oversight, it’s because of age-discrimination and concern for their personal welfare. Ageism and classism are a greater factor than racism. Students are seen as irresponsible and out of control when they’re partying. If the police are guilty of anything, it’s prejudice against young people who are drunk.
Octavian Safford: It’s crazy. How a child gets stabbed to death at a college party, everybody sees it, but ain’t nobody came through. It’s kind of sickening. Each time I see his picture I touch it and I pray for him. Let that mother get justice.
Melanie Stevenson, Arcata: It’s made people feel more like there are racist people here. It makes you feel like the police force might not be looking out for certain individuals as much as others.
Karina Davis, Arcata: My housemates were close to the situation. … My feelings evolved along with the case. At first, I thought the police were going to come and solve everything, and everything will be better. That’s not happening. It makes me lose faith in our justice system.
Cedar Kaplenk, Arcata: Our justice system here has a bad rap in general. It’s not like bigger communities where you’re afraid of actually being hurt by the police. It’s more of just, don’t count on them.
Kristina Carrara, Arcata: The whole school has been affected. There’s a lot of trouble when it comes to people feeling they can celebrate their youth and still be safe. It just seems like there’s definitely a need to have a little more safety while still promoting festivities within a college community.
Devin Butor, Arcata: We really need to realize that we are all one. If we’re angry and we’re intoxicated, but then we realize we’re all brothers and sisters, someone like Josiah could have been embraced and not hurt.
Melissa Frawley, Eureka: The cops here don’t do (anything). This was absolutely the most unfortunate thing. There were people right there that know exactly what happened. I don’t know how those people sleep at night.
Steven Gracy, Arcata: I think it’s really rocked our neighborhood, for good reason.

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