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“Unsolved Hate,” the case of David Josiah Lawson

The murder of David Josiah Lawson happened almost 11 months ago. On April 15, 2017, the 19-year-old HSU student Lawson was stabbed multiple times at a house party in Arcata and he died shortly after. The case remains unsolved and justice has yet to be served. Suspect Kyle Zoellner was arrested at the scene, but was later released due to lack of evidence. Lawson’s death is still felt deeply by students and community members.

Close to 100 people gathered at the D Street Neighborhood Center for a showing of the documentary “Unsolved Hate” last Thursday, which was directed by Courtney Wagner. The film focuses on the Lawson case and how his murder affected our small college town. The NAACP Eureka Chapter hosted the event as a part of the three-part film series they are showing for Black History Month.

A discussion followed the film screening in which students and community members were able to discuss the case and the social issues surrounding Lawson’s death. The discussion was similar to the six forums the city council promised the students of HSU. The original meetings were meant to be a place to discuss the safety of minority students and provide community updates on the case. The six meetings that the city council promised were stopped after the fourth one with no notice. Community members are attempting to work with city officials to reinstate these forums without the updates on the case, because the case is ongoing and therefore cannot provide certain information.

Footage by Patrick Maravelias. Edited by Kyra Skylark and Patrick Maravelias.

Wagner is a recent graduate of Sacramento State University. She directed “Unsolved Hate” as her graduation project. Wagner got a panicked call from a friend at HSU the night Lawson was murdered in which she learned of the homicide and the potential mishandling of the case on behalf of the authorities.

Footage by Patrick Maravelias. Edited by Kyra Skylark and Patrick Maravelias.

“I want even the smallest amount of change, even if it’s just one local [who] watched it and thought, ‘Damn, I was raised with racist values and it affects all the people around me,’” Wagner said. “Even just one person becoming self-aware would be amazing, but I would really like to see some actual justice happen.”

Community member Rachel Garcia attended the showing to get more information. She wanted to know what exactly happened the night Lawson died and if anyone filmed the cops to hold them accountable for how they handled the situation.

“I think if people were cognizant that they have the right to [film the cops on the scene], it might help situations like this,” Garcia said.

She learned at the showing that, no, the cops were not properly filmed by individuals on the scene.

Footage by Patrick Maravelias. Edited by Kyra Skylark and Patrick Maravelias.

HSU student Jamila Salih attended the screening to support the #JusticeforJosiah movement.

“I’m here to bring consciousness to Humboldt,” Salih said. “There is no platform where black students are talking about black things, minority students or anyone talking about things that are uncomfortable. So I just wanted to create that platform for students. ”

All Melanated Everything is a show on KRFH 105.1 that airs every Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Thursday at 3 p.m.

Salih created All Melanated Everything as a platform to have “uncomfortable conversations about racism, classism, anything basically that the social construction is – you don’t talk about it.”

Footage by Patrick Maravelias. Edited by Kyra Skylark and Patrick Maravelias.

Deborah Sanchez, a board member on the Seventh Generation Funds Board and a Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles, attended the showing while in town.

“There is enough information here to show that this is a possible hate crime and if the local authorities are not going to take this seriously, then perhaps we need to be looking into civil rights issues and putting pressure from the Federal authorities to take care of the situation,” Sanchez said during the discussion.

Footage by Patrick Maravelias. Edited by Kyra Skylark and Patrick Maravelias.

Whether it’s seeking justice for David Josiah Lawson in 2017 and HSU student Corey Clark in 2001 on a federal level, getting their story to a national publication or keeping their legacy alive here, the students and community members who attended the film showing will not stop searching for answers.

“It’s gonna be a long road, but I also think that it’s definitely something the community can rally around, the community will eventually heal from and will also change the trajectory of everything that will happen in the future,” Sanchez said.

To stay updated on the case and events related to the case, visit the Justice for Josiah Lawson site, the SLAWSON GIRL blog or the #JusticeforJosiah Facebook page. 

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If you are wondering what you as a community member can do to help the Lawson case, you can contact the Arcata City Council members to reinstate “the promised monthly meetings where we will be discussing racism in the community,” and to inquire about the status of the investigation.

City Council members:

  1. Mayor Sofia Pereira, 707-633-8015, SPereira@CityofArcata.org
  2. Vice-Mayor Brett Watson, 707-293-3585, BWatson@CityofArcata.org
  3. Paul Pitino, 707-822-2556, PPitino@CityofArcta.org
  4. Michael Winkler, 707-822-1857, MWinkler@CityofArcata.org
  5. Susan Ornelas, 707-826-2722, SOrnelas@CityofArcata.org

Contacting Democracy Now and NPR to encourage them to cover David Josiah Lawson’s case and the mishandling of the case as a nation-wide story is another way to show your support that was brought up during the film discussion.

UPDATE: The monthly community meetings for updates on the case and discussion regarding student safety have been reinstated. The next will be held on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

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