This past Wednesday I attended Arcata’s city council meeting. I was told that at this council meeting, they were going to address the police response time to the off-campus party where Humboldt State University student David Lawson, was stabbed and murdered this past weekend.
Students who were at the party felt that the police were too concerned with crowd control and questioning witnesses, which might have played a role Lawson receiving delayed medical attention.
When I arrived to the city council meeting however, I was told by a friend of mine who works at the local news station that the police response time was actually addressed in a closed session earlier in the day.
Since I was already there I sat down to hear the meetings agenda. I am definitely glad that I did because I was literally blown away at the letter read by councilwoman Sofia Pereira.She asked for a moment of silence for slain HSU student David Lawson and she then proceeded to read a letter. Within this letter she stated that:
“We cannot continue to ignore the systemic and cultural racism that exists in our community. While we can say we’ve been working on issues of equity in our community, we as a community failed Josiah Lawson and other students of color, who have stated over and over that they do not feel safe and welcomed here.”
To say that I was surprised by her words would be an understatement. I was blown away because I was not expecting anything like this to be mentioned when I sat down in this meeting.
Pereira continued, stating that following the homicide she sat in many meetings with HSU students and that:
“I heard first-hand the fear that students of color have about local racism and for their safety off-campus; they know and we know that racial inequities continue to exist. The students expressed concerns that I share, that race played a role in the homicide.”
Pereira said that students expressed concern over the response time and the priorities of the first responders who arrived on scene.
“It is important to me that our students of color feel safe and protected. I will ensure that once the criminal investigation is complete that we review the actions of our response and identify which actions have led to these concerns. I deeply apologize for Arcata’s failure to oppose racism openly and aggressively.”
Pereira closed her letter by stating that her words don’t feel like they are enough because they are not. She spoke of taking action, however, no insight into the specifics of the actions that would be taken, was mentioned.
Once Pereira concluded her letter we had a moment of silence for Lawson and City of Arcata Mayor Susan Ornelas continued with the day’s agenda.
As I walked away from that meeting I remember saying “wow” to myself. This is how taken aback I was.
I was not at all however, surprised that the city could come to such a conclusion. I was only surprised that the city would take such responsibility, publicly. To say that the city has failed Humboldt State University Students of color as well as going so far and say that they too believe that the murder of Lawson was a racially motivated crime, is major.
In meetings organized by the director of the Academic Centers at HSU, students have expressed not feeling safe in town and shared their experiences of racism to city council members and the police department prior to Lawson’s murder.
This is what Pereira is most likely alluding to when she states that the city has failed Lawson and other students of color who have “stated over and over that they do not feel safe and welcomed here.”
If the city is willing to admit that they have failed the students, why does Humboldt State continue to market themselves as this inclusive space that is welcoming and understanding of various cultures and people?
The only thing HSU is inclusive of, is taking students of color’s money and trying to meet a racial quota to apply for federal funds.