Arcata, CA–Today Arcata’s weekly farmers market was minimized to make room the thousands of people who flocked to Arcata’s Plaza for the 50th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.
For someone unfamiliar with the event the scene was a bit bizarre but for those who participate and come to witness the races every year, it is a display of engineering and artistic expression.
Founded by metal sculptor Hobart Brown in 1969, this tradition has grown tremendously from a mere two-blocks in Ferndale.
Now, every Memorial Day Weekend the race begins on Arcata’s Plaza for a 3-day marathon that encompasses various local beaches, trails and towns.
“Kinetic Sculptures are all-terrain human-powered art vehicles, engineered to race over road, water, mud and sand. They are impressive works of sculpture and engineering loaded with “kinetic thrills” like animated faces, fire cannons, and unusual drive mechanisms.”
While many were focused on the races a person with their face covered, climbed the McKinley statue that sits in the center of the Plaza so quick, most people were not even aware of what was happening.
It was not until a sheet that was stitched together and spray painted in big, bold letters was placed over the statue, did people notice and start taking pictures. The message was clear. Justice For Josiah.
It has now been 13-months since the unsolved stabbing-death of Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson last April in Arcata. A suspect was arrested at the scene but after five days of preliminary hearings, was released due to a lack of evidence.
After a year of marches, protest, vigils, community dialogues to address concerns of student safety and police incompetence–there has been no resolve in Lawson’s case.
Last month Arcata’s former Police Chief Tom Chapman, abruptly resigned on the heels of Tom Parker, the private investigator brought in via Lawson’s family attorney.
Now the city manager and council are not willing to talk publicly about Lawson, after being slapped with a lawsuit for negligence by Lawson’s mother, as well as false arrest by the original suspect.
There is currently a process underway to hire a new chief of police, establish the interim chief and find another outside investigator for Lawson’s case. His mother and her supporters want Parker back. The reality of this seems very slim, due to interviews Parker gave after terminating his contract with the city where he cited a lack of cooperation and stalling tactics from APD in Lawson’s case.
“13-months later and there is nothing to show for it. At this point, it is clear that the city doesn’t care. I know Lisa [HSU’s President] doesnt care,” one supporter of Lawson’s shared.
A group of non-people of color participated in covering the McKinley statue.
They relayed it was important for them to do the demonstration during a time when so many people were on the Plaza so that people were forced to acknowledge the injustice happening in the community.
“It’s right in front of your face, you have to look at it.”
Another goal was to get the word out about Lawson to a wider audience–like the many people who traveled to Arcata to witness the kinetic races.
“Hopefully, there is more public pressure on the town to do something about it.”
Removing The Statue
The McKinley statue has been the topic of conversation and heated debates after the city council voted to remove the statue 4-1 earlier this year.
The city councils vote prompted backlash from community members. A counter-movement of keeping the statue on the Plaza was created and led by council member Michael Winkler, the only councilmember to vote against the removal.
The Los Angeles Times even wrote an article on the statue after the councils vote.
Public sessions were held last year and two were held this year, so that the council could get a feel of how the community felt about the statue.
Each time, an overwhelming amount of people came and requested the statue be removed. The message was clear–statues of presidents represented imperialism.
A statue in the center of the town is a constant reminder to Indigenous groups like the Wiyot, whose land the statue sits on, of the genocide and destruction of their way of life prior to settler contact.
The counter group has successfully gathered enough signatures to put the vote of the McKinley statue to a ballot measure.
For Arcata, a town who prides itself on being some sort of liberal utopia, it is time the “community” really ask themselves what they want their town to represent. Inclusion and equity? Because right now it is feeling like colonialism, erasure and institutional racism for people of color who live in the community.