Following a county judge’s decision to release suspected murder Kyle Zoellner, Humboldt State University students, staff, faculty and community members marched on the streets of Arcata in protest over the weekend. While the marches saw over 100 participants, they continued into the week, gaining more momentum in search of justice for David Josiah Lawson.
On Wed. May 10, organizers known as the “Friends of Josiah” led a march from HSU to the Arcata Police Department. With Lawson’s family alongside, the marchers detailed the purpose of the movement.
“This is not a protest, it’s a peaceful action,” said Alex Foster, close friend of Lawson and one of the march’s organizers. “We will be conversing with people, handing out fliers, passing on information. We are going to the police department to demand justice for Josiah.”
With the mother of Josiah, Michelle-Charmaine Lawson in party, organizers were explicit about the message they were trying to portray to the community and remaining faithful to her wishes for the day’s outcome.
“We’re not here to antagonize the police,” said Elijah Chandler, close friend of Lawson and member of Brothers United. “The purpose of today is to reach out to the community for justice. We are going to show them our strength and unity.”
Before leaving the university campus, marchers gathered in a prayer circle led by Phil Griggs, pastor to the Lawson family. Hand in hand and steps in synchronization, the marchers then walked into LK Wood Boulevard. With safety coordinators on the outside, the group marched with the flow of traffic into town. In an effort to prevent both congestion and frustration, University Chief of Police Donn Peterson worked in tandem with the coordinators to direct oncoming traffic and marchers safely.
Once in town, the march saw community members and local business owners step outside of their homes and establishments in support of the action with cheers and chants. But not everyone in the community showed up in solidarity, despite best efforts to keep the movement peaceful and organized. Some individuals attempted to berate and agitate the marchers but instead were met with chants of unity and “Justice for Josiah.”
Soon after, the march halted at the Arcata Police Department near the City Hall. The marchers then linked arms and formed a circle around the building while organizers announced the next steps of action.
“We’re going to be joining the council at City Hall,” Alex said. “We will be talking about moving forward with our demands.”
The demands laid out in the pamphlets disseminated during the march include a request that special prosecutors within the California Dept. of Justice take control of the investigation, as well as the arrests of Lila Ortega and Angelica Mcfarlane for their alleged participation in the crime, among others.
With no instances of disorganization or conflict, the “Friends of Josiah” felt that the day of action was a success and a step forward, not only for the community but for justice as well.
“The fact that we’re able to come out here in unison means a hell of a lot,” Chandler said. “This is what it’s about, this unity can’t be broken. Us standing together is going to make sure the people responsible are held accountable.”
During the Arcata city council meeting, many spoke out about the local and national conditions surrounding the treatment of people of color. Kenya James Nunley, coordinator of the African American Center for Academic Excellence at HSU, asserted that many are made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome despite having just as much a right to be here.
“We all want to be comfortable,” said Nunley. “We’re not asking to be welcomed into your community, it’s our community too.”
With many feeling as though HSU and Arcata beguiled them, the question of what Humboldt means moving forward arose at the meeting.
“What has Humboldt meant to me? It’s a small community, but it’s plagued just like the rest of this country,” said Nunley. “What is going to be our example? Are we just going to be another place on the list?”
Moreover, speakers during the council felt the community should be proactive in taking a stand against racism and work towards healing in the name of justice for David Josiah Lawson.
“What Pastor Phil kept saying to me is that Josiah’s name means ‘God heals,’” said Nunley. “That’s not by chance. God heals. There are a lot of people in here who may or may not believe in God, but Josiah believed in God. If you’re gonna stand here in the presence of his legacy, you need to honor that. His name is ‘God heals.’ So what Humboldt means to me is that we’re going to take Josiah’s legacy and we’re going to use it to heal this community.”