What Is The Point of Arcata’s ‘Community Dialogues on Race?’

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr
.Charmaine Lawson| Diego Linares

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]rcata, CA–The proclaimed “community dialogues on race” came at the request of  David Josiah Lawson’s mother.

She drove from Southern California a few months after her son was killed last year with over 1,000 signatures she collected, asking the city council to put her son on their meeting agenda.

She was seeking transparency in the investigation and wanted the city to address the concerns of student safety.

There have been meetings all year on and off campus between “Equity Arcata” and these community dialogues.

What can be shown from these meetings other than a community potluck and stories in the newspaper?

The city is quick to say this is what Charmaine Lawson wanted. Not exactly.

What she has now is a remixed version of what she asked for, with David Josiah Lawson being completely removed from the conversation.

Order. Is all the city cares about. Where is the order in Lawson’s investigation which is currently at a standstill, according to Lawson’s family attorney?

One woman who attended last nights meeting wrote in a comment on my Facebook page:

“I have done nothing but think about that meeting too. And it was simply ‘inappropriate’. The timing was inappropriate, even if some involved meant well. This meeting would have been best served, by being held BEFORE Josiah was murdered, or AFTER his murder was SOLVED, and AFTER the statue came down. But last night? No. Just no. Very very discouraging meeting. And the whole “taking notes to get input on how the community feels”….seriously? A years worth of meeting, vigils, walks, talks, protests, and you are all wondering how the community feels? It feels like nothing is done, and if we can all just hold hands and talk about how wonderful things will be someday….

It is important to note that Lawson’s mother does want these dialogues to continue and agrees on the importance of protecting the integrity of the case.

However, where is the justice after a year of community meetings?

Community Dialogue on Race

Last night Roger Williams, a Black Paster born in Ukiah, facilitated the forum with Tina Okoye from HSU’s resident life, UPD’s Chief of Police Donn Peterson and Arcata’s mayor Sofia Pereria serving on a panel.

Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer sat off to the side while the panel was asked already submitted questions by Williams.

The panelist was asked various questions ranging from the interim police chief, UPD’s measures of working with local departments in keeping students safe off campus, if Tom Parker would be brought back into Lawson’s investigation, the McKinley statue removal status and problematic statements made by city council member Michael Winkler.

The panelist and their time should definitely be respected.

These forums are not structured in a way to help spark the much-needed institutional change in the city of Arcata.

To explain, there was no representation present from Arcata’s Police Department at the so-called “community dialogue on race.” Nor from HSU, other than Okoye and Peterson. This makes one question the legitimacy of these meetings. The people who should be there are never present. Like someone said last night, “their absence speaks for itself.”

We are not dealing with mere unconscious biases at this point. We are dealing with blatant institutional racism, lies from city officials and an absent school administration.

Two students have been murdered and there has been nothing done to bring their killers to justice. In both cases, there is an apparent lack of will in investigating from local authorities, despite prime suspects. The question is, why?

For someone who has studied systems of oppression and racism while a student at HSU, a few ideas come to mind.

Last night former a HSU student drove six miles from San Fransisco to attend the forum/panel. He detailed to those present, how he was stabbed at a party while attending HSU. Although his attacker was apprehended months later, he received a much lower sentence than expected, for stabbing someone multiple times.

He shared how after he heard about Lawson’s case, he called APD police chief and detectives, as well as the local DA’s office. He said his calls were not returned and that he was also hung up on.

After he shared his story, the only response he received from officials was from council member Paul Pitino who sat in the crowd. Pitino asked him if he had any suggestions on what needed to be done to improve the issues discussed.

How White Women Perpetuate White Supremacy

It is interesting to view how there are white women in positions of power in the city of Arcata–from the mayor, President of HSU and the city manager. You would think that as women, a marginalized group that has been fighting for equality for decades, they would already understand and not have communities of color reiterate over and over, their realities as people of color.

Public meetings would not have been abruptly shut down. Smaller group circles with “stakeholders” would be a broader conversation amongst the community, not selective by those in power.

These women sit on their pedestals sometimes with sly smiles/smirks on their faces, in the midst of us relaying our frustrations, while they operate as guards of the system. Whether these women know it or not, they are perpetuating racism and white supremacy in their positions of power–while they skate to political careers and retirement–off the backs of our oppression.

HSU’s President Lisa Rossbacher put out a public letter stating that she was unaware of the obstruction in Lawson’s case–which is troubling because HSU and the city are supposed to be working on “equity and diversity” measures. It also implies Rossbacher has been ignoring the cries and pleas from students and Lawson’s family, who pointed to something not being right from day one.

April 18, 2018

Dear Arcata City Council and City Manager:

On behalf of Humboldt State University, I wish to express concern regarding the investigation into the murder of student David Josiah Lawson.

I am troubled by the developments over the last week, and especially by what I have heard from Mr. Parker in various media interviews. He has raised questions about process, training, leadership, investigative techniques, and more. I know many others in our community are troubled as well. A year later, this case remains unresolved, and it is incumbent on the City to provide reassurance that it is being handled in a way that will lead to justice.

HSU enjoys a strong friendship with the City of Arcata, and we are grateful for that relationship. We work closely together in many ways, including with efforts to create a more welcoming and equitable community on the North Coast. As this investigation continues, our role will be ensuring that we all remember the most important points: This community needs justice, and our students need to feel safe.

This is not something that HSU can solve, although I wish it were. This is a law enforcement matter under the jurisdiction of the City of Arcata. While I do not know the details of the work underway or of additional actions you plan to take, I encourage you to do everything possible.

Looking ahead, please be assured that we will continue to do all we can to support your efforts to bring justice for Josiah.


Lisa A. Rossbacher, Ph.D.

Read More:

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. Follow Me on IG @Slausongirl


  1. I am interesting in knowing more about “who” was involved with the development of this group. Was it just city officials? Police? Outside entity? Like non profits or businesses? Someone has to be “managing” the process. If you have reported that before I apologize, but if you have could you direct me to which one, maybe? Anyway, its always the behind the scene people that I am interested in. What is their agenda? And does it really hold up.

  2. Painful Truths Reply

    The point is that, regardless of whoever killed Lawson, it’s still somehow a referendum on the evils of The White Man.

    They can’t afford to have it any other way – they’ve already bet the entire farm on this being a Racial Hate Crime, and anything that contradicts their narrative has to be silenced. It’s a damn shame that we’re actually letting identity politics stall a murder investigation, but you’ve got over a hundred witnesses and Nobody Saw Nothing, and you’ve got riots in the streets and marches on city hall, and “Community Dialogues” pitching the insistence that there was no other possible explanation than this being a racially-motivated hate crime. The evidence already ruled out the one white guy there, but even if they conclusively proved that it was a specific person attending the party, nobody would accept the truth. They’d have even more riots, insisting that APD had falsified the evidence to frame someone outspoken in the black community. And the dialogue goes on unchallenged, truth be damned.

    The retired FBI investigator bailed. APD’s chief bailed. Maybe they know something nobody wants to go on record announcing.

    • slausongirl Reply

      I agree that whoever stabbed Lawson should be held accountable REGARDLESS OF RACE however, has another suspect EVER been named by APD? So this whole fears of a riot is ludicrous. If they believe it was a Black person I believe they would have worked over time to build a case just to end all this racism talks. Just my thought.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!