Reflection: Fighting For Justice is Exhausting But Black Lives Matter Too

Arcata, CA–April 15th will mark one year since Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson was stabbed to death in Arcata.

Four months after I graduated from HSU, Lawson was killed.

His case remains unsolved and his mother travels from southern California to Arcata every month seeking justice for her son–while city officials accused of incompetence climb the ranks and receive promotions.

I watched almost a year of my life fly by as I attended countless city hall meetings, sat in on meetings with Lawson’s mother and frolicked with locals at community forums about student safety and racism in Arcata’s community.

Not to mention all the time spent writing “politically correct” pieces to keep the public informed about the justice efforts around Josiah’s murder.

Fighting for justice is exhausting.

I am tired. Emotionally and mentally drained from playing white supremacist chess for the majority of 2017 with city and school officials (when they showed up) to no avail.

Yes, Josiah was murdered in the local community at a party. It is not the school’s fault, or the police. The only thing they are responsible for is their response–which is the problematic aspect we have been trying to address since last year….

Students who attended the party claim that aid was not rendered to Lawson in a timely manner, nor did he arrive at the hospital in a time that would be appropriate–considering that Mad River Hospital was 0.3 miles from where the stabbing occurred.

For over ten months at city hall meetings city officials were asked to look into police response the night Lawson was killed.

Initially, the response from the City of Arcata was that their resources were limited so they had to focus on the murder investigation. Once that was complete then police response would be looked into.

Several months later, then mayor of Arcata Susan Ornelas stated publicly at a city hall meeting that looking into police conduct would be a “conflict of interest.”

Humboldt State

On the fifth day of the preliminary hearing when the suspect who was arrested at the scene for Lawson’s death was released, I witnessed students and the girlfriend of Lawson crying, distraught and confused.

I also watched HSU’s President Lisa Rossbacher, as she was approached by a Black student who wanted to ask her,

“How will the school help Josiah’s family now that the prime suspect has been released?”

Before the student could speak Rossbacher walked past her, looked over her shoulder and told the student of color to “make an appointment,” as she was whisked away by a plain clothes university police officer.

Rossbacher has been overall absent from any vigils or discussions regarding Lawson and racism in the local community.

Lisa Rossbacher photo by Megan Bender|The Lumberjack

Lawson’s mother went to the Cal State University Chancellor’s office in Long Beach last year, when the Board of Trustees held their open meetings. She relayed to Chancellor White that she rarely heard from Rossbacher following her son’s murder. Coincidentally, Rossbacher was present in Long Beach and was called to the Chancellor’s office and told she needed to be more present.

This is the only reason Rossbacher and HSU’s Dean of students Randi Burke, were present at the third forum to discuss updates into Lawson’s case and the concerns of student safety. These meetings were asked for by Lawson’s mother as a way to keep her son’s name and his unsolved murder in the light.

Community Meeting To Discuss Lawson Murder Updates Ignites Frustrations


In November 2017, the City of Arcata approved a pay increase for APD amongst other promotions within the department.

Pay increases for APD before anything had been put on the city’s agenda about conduct-review or police training was like a blatant ‘forget what you all are talking/concerned about, our police are doing a wonderful job.’ 

This is why I can understand Lawson’s mother’s frustrations nine months later.

“If you are not going to do anything, leave your seat,” she said at the NAACP MLK Day celebration, speaking to elected city officials.

Now it is reported that APD has promoted their (only) detective to lieutenant.

What incredible work has this detective done, where he needs to be promoted in the midst of an unsolved student murder investigation?

The lack of justice in Josiah’s case is infuriating but understanding how racism and white supremacy works, it is expected. I am definitely surprised by the way his case has been handled by local authorities because he was a college student, on the right path. What is extremely disheartening is to witness how HSU continues to fail in supporting students of color. Specifically, administration and the majority of faculty and staff have not shown up for any of the “equity” initiatives as well as the racism and safety forums that have taken place over the last year as a result of Lawson’s murder.

I do not believe that Black students are safe in Humboldt County because of the lack of advocacy for these students and the seemingly lack of concern & commitment to justice by the university.

How do you make students of color feel safe at HSU and in the surrounding community?

Solving student murders would definitely aid in making students feel safe and comfortable in Arcata.

Hold those who commit crimes against students of color accountable.

Cultural themed potlucks are nowhere near addressing or solving the real issues–Arcata city officials–and it is almost disrespectful.

You expect students to want to come and share a meal with people who tell them that their lives mean nothing?

“One of us is gone. A young man who, came to college yet, now can’t return home, and, we mourn on, because it’s hard to stomach and we stand strong, yet we stand still in pain and everyday, feels like the same. We have become numb, to the inconsistencies in the direction, we’ve been pointed in. At the end of the day, all we want is justice. And I know, that is not too much to ask for. It’s not about what we want, we need more, because emptiness has settled in some of us and for others, they find it hard to speak. But don’t mistake it for weakness, we are just processing in slow-mo, because justice has been a no-show, and now, it’s starting to get e-mo-tion-al. Now I am hugging my baby brother like i’ll never see him again, because if it happens to one of us, it can happen again, and that’s my worst fear.” -HSU Student Angel Sylva

About slausongirl

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism.

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One comment

  1. Diane Des Marets

    Excellent piece, Tina. You are an incredible young woman.

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