David Josiah Lawson was a victim of a hate crime and has become the poster child of the racism that exists in Humboldt County. Though the Arcata Police Department has been working through the investigation using physical evidence and witness statements, the trail remains cold in the pursuit to bring justice to Lawson.
Lawson was a black 19-year-old criminal justice student at Humboldt State when he was stabbed to death at a house party in Arcata on April 15, 2017. The efforts of local authorities attempting to solve the case of his death fall short to this day. Those who spoke up after the incident hold little water in the eyes of the law due to conflicting reports of hearsay and lack of evidence. So much is against Lawson under these unfortunate circumstances.
A vigil has been held for Lawson every month since his untimely death last April. The turnout of the 11th vigil on March 15 at Arcata City Hall was lower than usual due to spring break and heavy rain, but over a dozen people participated in solidarity of Lawson nonetheless.
During the vigil, Alex Foster, a leading force in finding justice for and preserving the memory of Lawson, said mixed messages aired by the media continue to hamper with the development of the murder case.
“There’s a lot of rumors and false narratives, especially from newspapers,” Foster said. “It’s just different perspectives.”
McKinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner was arrested for allegedly stabbing Lawson, but was released by Judge Dale Reinholtsen for lack of evidence. During the preliminary hearings, contradicting testimonials by eyewitnesses include Zoellner’s physical condition when Lawson was murdered.
In a report by Mad River Union, Zoellner’s family said Lawson was stabbed to death while Kyle was unconscious due to a brutal assault. However, the Lost Coast Outpost reported Elijah Chandler, a friend of Lawson who was at the scene of the crime, witnessed Zoellner “drop something shiny on the ground” a moment after discovering someone had been stabbed. Conflicting reports such as these only muddy the waters of the case.
What students, police officers, politicians and other community members need to understand is that the murder of Lawson brings up broader issues of social injustice and public safety.
If people continue to downgrade the importance of this case or stay disinterested, then we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. We are allowing criminals to get away with hate crimes in a town that brings in innocent students year after year.
Despite some of the challenges Foster and other tenacious supporters face, the search for justice carries on.
Though the case remains open, relentless efforts are made to not only keep Lawson’s memory alive, but to spread awareness about the injustices that people of color still face in the area.
April 15 will mark the one-year anniversary of Lawson’s death. Though details for the next vigil are in the works, tentative plans include a community gathering at the Arcata Plaza and a march to the D Street Neighborhood Center. Full details will be announced on the Justice For David Josiah Lawson Facebook page.
In addition, the City of Arcata is supporting a safe space for a Community Dialogue on Race on March 22 at the D Street Neighborhood Center, located at 1301 D St. in Arcata. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.