Photo collage by Jen Kelly

33 Months

Living in a community full of love, fear and a growing void of justice

Living in a community full of love, fear and a growing void of justice

Thirty-three months after a black HSU student was murdered in the city of Arcata, a circle of family, friends, students and community members huddled together, clasped hands and shouted his name.

“Justice for David Josiah Lawson,” the group said loud and clear over and over from the steps of the Arcata City Hall. The sun had set hours ago, and a winter wind was biting at those gathered in attendance, but weather wouldn’t stop the crowd.

“The vibe itself is very upbeat considering the weather,” said attendee Andre Ramos, who wore a heavy winter coat and a beanie pulled over his ears.

Every month since the murder of David Josiah Lawson, a crowd has gathered around Charmaine Lawson, the mother of Josiah Lawson, and together they demand justice for Josiah. Lawson remains steadfast in her belief that justice will happen. She makes the journey all the way up to Humboldt from her home in Southern California to remind those in power that she will make it happen.

“It will happen,” Lawson said. “I serve a mighty god. As long as I have breath in my body I will continue to be here.”

“There are beautiful, amazing, wonderful, compassionate people here. There is love within this community, but there is evil and darkness here.”

Charmaine Lawson

To Lawson, this was an open and shut case. The original suspect, former Mckinleyville resident Kyle Christopher Zoellner, was apprehended the night of the murder. Lawson said the murder weapon was also found. She said DNA evidence should presumably solve this case.

“Why we’re still here? Dumbfounded,” Lawson said.

As the months go by, more and more students move to Humboldt to attend Humboldt State University. Yet Lawson is concerned these students don’t know the situation they’re moving into.

HSU has a much higher population of people of color than the surrounding community. Most HSU students come from Los Angeles or the Bay Area and the small-town culture of Humboldt is different from what they’re used to. Lawson wants to ensure that all students who start the next step of their lives in Humboldt make it out again, but she feels that students of color simply aren’t welcome.

“If you’re a student of color, be careful,” Lawson said. “There are beautiful, amazing, wonderful, compassionate people here. There is love within this community, but there is evil and darkness here.”

Kwame Achebe, a San Diego native, agreed. Achebe has attended every vigil since the murder, but his voice still shook when talking about what happened. He chose his words carefully but spoke with a grim humor when recounting one of his first experiences in Humboldt.

“What’s funny is in San Diego I’m pretty light skinned,” Achebe said with a laugh. “In San Diego I’d have to be convincing people I was black. I didn’t need to convince anybody here. My first day at Arcata High I was greeted as ‘the nigger,’ OK? I was greeted as ‘the nigger.'”

Achebe said his experiences in Humboldt have told him that this isn’t an aberration.

“For us not to have justice 33 months after the murder of a young black man? It’s not out of the norm at all,” Achebe said.

Achebe said the elected leaders of Arcata don’t care about what happened to Josiah Lawson, so it’s up to the people.

“I’ve been out here from the very beginning. I see the look on their faces when they’re addressing us. They have no souls in their eyes,” Achebe said. “They don’t care.”

Part of the goal of the Justice for Josiah movement is justice in the form of political change, not just for Josiah Lawson, but for the whole system. Lawson vowed to keep working to elect people who she thinks will be able to uphold justice.

“I will continue to call people in power out that are elected officials who are not doing their jobs and make sure we get people with integrity and love and compassion in seats,” Lawson said.

Over the course of the almost three-year history of this case, it has faced numerous setbacks. The case against Zoellner was dismissed in 2017. In 2019, a criminal grand jury decided not to indict anyone for the murder of Josiah Lawson, and the California Attorney General declined to take the case.

“Justice for me is having Kyle Christopher Zoellner arrested for the murder of my son David Josiah Lawson and held accountable for his actions,” Lawson said.

The history of the case shows that a system that could bring about the justice that Lawson wants is not the one Humboldt has, but Lawson is convinced it will one day. Until then, Lawson is concerned for the students of color in the here and now.

“Don’t go anywhere alone in this town,” Lawson said. “Stick together so someone can tell your story if you’re not able to.”

Share This Post

More Stories

Nina G uses comedy to start conversations

During the virtual comedy event held by the SDRC, Nina Ghiselli tells her story and emphasizes the importance of student disability resources within schools.

It’s not just the Capitol Police

As the world watched from their televisions on January 6, we witnessed scenes unfold before our eyes that were, to many, unimaginable: supporters of President Trump swarmed the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, then proceeded to break in and

The San Jose State University Football Team Comes to Humboldt

On a day’s notice from administration, the SJSU football team spends a week and a half in Humboldt practicing because their county did not allow it. Students react to their presence on campus in the midst of a pandemic. Directed

Homelessness in Humboldt, CA

This is the first trailer of a homeless documentary created by HSU students. We have spent months filming and will continue to film throughout the next year. Follow the heartbreaking stories of the homeless community around Humboldt county and the

Thrifty Arcata

Taking a tour of the local thrift shops in Arcata during the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed and produced by Skylar Gaven.

House Plants Generate Peace and Meaning During the Pandemic

Three different people with the same love for plants! House plants have become quite popular these days especially since we’re all basically stuck inside during the pandemic. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but these beautiful green oxygen-makers provide more

Prop 22 represents political favoritism of money over workers’ rights

California’s passing of proposition 22 on Nov. 5 represents a frustrating history of workers’ rights being trampled by the overwhelming influence of greed in politics.  This proposition forces app-based workers to be classified as independent contractors, rather than employees. This

Remembering Evelyn Andrews 10 months after her passing

By Katelyn Dendas It has been 10 months since my friend, teammate and freshman year dorm mate, Evelyn Andrews, passed away. I don’t remember what the grief counselor said or what transpired after that Monday, but I do remember arriving

Protestors seek to defund HSUPD

Two local, activist organizations work together to stage a sit-in against Humboldt State’s police department.

Getting stuck on the Trump train

Writer Anthony Aragon details his experience of accidentally joining a pro-Trump car rally.

Justin Turner exposes the World Series to COVID-19

Justin Turner didn’t need to be the story in the wake of the Dodgers’ first World Series victory in 32 years. Instead here we are, wondering what sort of, if any, punishment Major League Baseball will decide to hand down

Four more years of fear

News Editor Carlos Holguin explains why he is worried about the next four years.

Dismal democracy

The Lumberjack editorial staff comments on America’s flawed electoral system As the world watches the United States 2020 election results, waiting for our pseudodemocratic process to churn out a new president, historically unprecedented voting methods misrepresents the reported Election Day

The Mario triple pack invokes a nostalgia attack

When I was a child, the first video game system I owned was a Nintendo 64. Among the games I played was Super Mario 64. I played it all the time and when I wasn’t playing it, I was lying

Women’s lacrosse drops their competitive season

Greta Roberts, president and player of Humboldt State University’s women’s lacrosse team, made the decision with her coach and teammates to cancel the upcoming spring season. The team decided that not being able to recruit in the fall would be

Dobby’s proposition opinions

Haven’t voted yet? Well, you’re running out of time. Here’s a quick rundown of California’s propositions on the ballot this year

Corporations buy out propositions

In a series of general and misleading advertisements, corporate backers of Propositions 22 and 23 show their grubby hands

CDOR continues virtually

The Campus and Community Dialogue On Race returns covering global justice for Black Lives.

Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Local food management practices of the Tolowa Dee-ni, Yurok and other indigenous peoples.

Humboldt State Admin attempts to discredit the Lumberjack

***A Lumberjack editorial represents both the majority opinion of the student newspaper’s editorial board, nine editors, as well as the overwhelming majority of Humboldt State University’s student body. Collectively, an editorial echos, embodies and advocates for community beliefs.*** Insensitive communications

Music of the Moment 6

21 Savage and Metro Boomin drop a classic with “Savage Mode II”

Spartans arrive at HSU despite campus concerns

***Editor’s note: SJSU football program was tested in congruence with Mountain West conference guidelines*** The Spartans have arrived and this time they’re not carrying spears or shields. Instead the San Jose State football team stepped onto the Humboldt State campus

Music of the Moment 5

After shooting Megan Thee Stallion, Tory Lanez cancels himself

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Comparisons between episodes of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone and our own dismal reality

Music of the Moment 4

YoungBoy Never Broke Again dodges the sophomore slump with his new album “Top.”

Self-Care Cuts

Changing your hair to change your life

HSU Seaweed Farm sets sail

The first commercially-approved seaweed farm in California will be on the map.

Music of the Moment 3

For better or worse, Big Sean is likely gone for good.

More Layers, More Protection?

Humboldt State demands double masking on campus, does more layers equal more protection?

The Ethnic Studies Bill is a Blessing

Ethnic Studies will thankfully become mandatory for all California State University students – as it should be.

The Complex Interface of Humans and Wildfires

How fire suppression is a mixed bag in Humboldt County Every fire season, blankets of smoke roll over Humboldt County. Here on the coast, that’s as close to wildfires as some of us get. But our practice of fire suppression

Defund HSU’s Police Department

Incidents of racism from the former UPD Chief, past examples of excessive force from current officers and a shrinking university budget.

How Not To Be Bitten By A Kitten

Please prepare to be prey Congratulations, a baby feline has recently come into your life. If they’re anywhere from 2-18 months, they bite. They see you as prey. Because you are prey. You always have been. You always will be.

Graduating Into Uncharted Waters

HSU graduates attempt to navigate a world turned upside-down by COVID-19 In May, Humboldt State University graduated hundreds of students, as it does every year. Unlike past years, graduates didn’t get to shake hands with their respective dean and receive

HSU Cultural Center Budget Slashed

Associated Students leaves student body devastated after significant reductions in cultural center’s budget.

All aboard the plague ship

Unprecedented times are met with normalized behavior, HSU puts students and community members at higher risk after reopening campus and student housing.

Music of the Moment

The hip-hop community rallies behind the Black Lives Matter Movement

Inside the Immune System

How the body uses multiple levels of defense against foreign intruders

Catcalling Can’t Continue

Verbal harassment toward women is about control and the assertion of gender discrimination

Major League Marijuana

Why I don’t think marijuana is everything it’s cracked up to be in baseball

Pigs Compost on Campus

CCAT tries to reduce HSU’s food waste footprint through new pig program