By Iridian Casarez and Curran Daly
What began as a vigil for HSU student David Josiah Lawson turned into a conversation about the safety and acceptance of people of color in the community.
Four months after the death of HSU student David Josiah Lawson students and community members organized a vigil to remember Lawson.
The night started with a message from Charmaine Lawson, Lawson’s mother, through Chryste Johnson. Johnson works as a faculty member in the social work department. Johnson is connected to students on campus through her work. She puts together student support programs during Spring Preview plus.
“Whatever the students need me to do, I would do,” Johnson said. “Today, they needed me to read this message from Charmaine.”
Johnson read the message Lawson’s mother wrote to the crowd.
“I am D.J.’s voice and I’m going to continue to fight for him,” Lawson said.
In the message, Lawson’s mother shared a speech that Lawson wrote in the summer of 2015, in which he spoke about his mother being his father figure.
Julio Torres a.k.a. Julio Perdido performed a song he wrote for Lawson called “3 Chords for the Movement.” Torres wrote the song for Lawson.
“For me music helps me get through anything,” Torres said. “It’s the biggest tool that can push for change.”
The vigil facilitator who did not want to give their name, said to the crowd that they are more than welcome to ask questions about the case. When the facilitator addressed the time it is taking for police to investigate the case, Susan Ornelas, mayor of the city of Arcata spoke to the crowd.
“I hate that this is taking so long,” Ornelas said. “The city and I personally contacted the Department of Justice and they can only help us with the forensics of this case.”
According to Ornelas, the Arcata Police Department has hired a private investigator, an ex FBI agent, to help with the case. Ornelas said to the crowd that she urges anyone to come forward who was at the party to talk to the police.
Chelsea Trillo is a master of social work student who identifies as brown and queer. Trillo said to the Mayor “How am I as a brown person going to tell others that they are safe here?” Trillo said she believes this situation is an isolated one. Trillo said she wanted to give an accurate presentation of Arcata to people who are coming into the community.
Erin Youngblood-Smith, a master of social work student, also addressed the issue of the safety of people of color.
“We come here because we feel we can make this a better place,” Youngblood-Smith said. “Students of color represent themselves.”
Mayor Ornelas responded by naming all the efforts the community has put together to try to make the city feel safer for students and people of color.
Sarah Torres, a native community member, began to ask the Mayor to put Arcata at the forefront of a movement to deal with racism in Humboldt county. She referenced past racial injustices in the county’s history and called for the city to act as the catalyst for change in Humboldt county.
“The system is not set up for people of color,” Torres said. “Arcata can set the example by taking down the statue of Mckinley.”
The discussion continued with the Mayor answering questions from additional audience members.
The vigil ended with a prayer from an HSU student. It has been four months since David Josiah Lawson was stabbed at an off-campus party.