As students, we have reasonable expectations of safety so we can focus on academic success without fear. This is not the reality for Humboldt State University students of color, both on campus and in the community. Both the Arcata Police Department and HSU have a long way to go to gain the trust of students of color.
The recent resignation of APD police chief Tom Chapman only worsens public confidence in local law enforcement.
A good deal of community members, including HSU students, are aware that 19-year-old HSU student David Josiah Lawson was murdered at an off-campus party in Arcata on April 15, 2017.
McKinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner was arrested at the scene of the crime, but released on May 5, 2017, due to lack of evidence connecting him to the murder.
There is a clear and serious disconnect within our community regarding racial diversity. Because Lawson is black and Zoellner is white, racial tensions tightened in the community. And as one group tries to engage with the community about race and public safety, others view such meetings as a way to promote white guilt.
To this day, no one is in custody of Lawson’s open homicide case.
Former FBI agent Tom Parker, who offered his investigative services on the Lawson case for free, resigned on April 9. According to the North Coast Journal, Parker said a lack of trust and cooperation by the APD led to his decision to resign.
“It was clear they were holding back things and not telling me the truth,” Parker said. “They had things going on and they wouldn’t tell me what they were.”
Chapman announced his resignation the following day without reason.
Following a press release by the City of Arcata announcing Chapman’s resignation, Arcata City manager Karen Diemer followed up with local media concerning both departures.
“[Chapman’s] decision does not stem from any one single thing,” Diemer said. “It is a combination of personal reasons and professional judgement on what he believes is best for the department and himself.”
In regards to the Lawson case, Diemer said the APD continues the investigation without Chapman.
“The investigative team for the David Josiah Lawson case is solidified with members of both the Arcata Police Department and District Attorney Investigators office,” Diemer said. “This team will stay in place and focused on the case through its completion.”
Parker’s claim that the APD withheld information raises major concerns. While it’s reasonable to conceal information from the public during an open investigation, why wasn’t the APD willing to cooperate with Parker?
Also suspicious is the timing of Chapman’s resignation. Why did Chapman resign the day after Parker terminated his contract with the APD and just five days before the one-year mark of Lawson’s death? Coincidence would be an unbelievable excuse.
While there’s only so much we can do in a case like this, we can demand more from from our law enforcement and other officials. Check with the City of Arcata, the Arcata Police Department and the Division of Student Affairs at HSU about the investigation. Don’t just do it once, but follow up as well.
We must stand in solidarity of not just the Lawson case, but for students of color. By remaining quiet, local law enforcement will prioritize less pressing issues and no progress will be made. We need to stand up for ourselves because the ones who should protect and serve us are stepping down.