‘What Now?’ Paying respect to David Josiah Lawson

By Casey Barton
Flapjack staff

In the early morning hours on April 16, 19-year-old HSU student David Josiah Lawson was fatally stabbed at a social gathering on Spear Avenue in Arcata, California. Lawson’s passing has continued to stir conversation on-campus since his memorial service.

This event not only saddens community members as a loss of young life, but as a possible case of racial hate crime. Students are concerned with their own safety and campus ideals. After a few days the community was eventually granted details to the event.

According to the Arcata Police Department’s Press Release on April 18, authorities were notified of an altercation at 3:02 am Saturday morning and responded within a minute of the initial call. When officers arrived, they found that Lawson had been stabbed multiple times and was bleeding heavily. His close friend and fellow Brother’s United member, Elijah Chandler, was performing life-saving procedures on Lawson as he moved in an out of consciousness. Authorities detained 23-year-old Mickinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner at the crime scene and proceeded to take Zoellner to the Humboldt County correctional Facility, booked under homicide. David Lawson was taken to Mad River Community Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

On May 5, after four and a half days of testimony, a judge dismissed charges against Zoellner, citing insufficient evidence to connect the suspect with the crime.

Chandler testified in court and also in interviews, describing the event in clear detail once he was able to respond to the stabbing incident. His comments point toward the possibility of Lawson’s attack as racially motivated.

“The only thing I heard – it was monstrous, in my opinion – was the two Caucasian women,” said Chandler. “Now that the police had arrived and were just making sure the assailant was going to be OK and that nobody touched him, the women were saying, ‘I really wish that nigger does die. I really hope that nigger dies.’”

The two women referenced by Chandler had apparently been connected with Zoellner during the initial altercations.

At Lawson’s memorial service held in the campus’ Kate Buchanan Room on Thursday, April 20, his family members and campus Brother’s reminded the community of Lawson’s incredibly successful life.

“Are you gonna allow racial tensions or anything like that matter? To cause you to now stop and throw your hands up and say you can’t continue on,” said Phil Griggs, David Josiah Lawson’s hometown pastor. “If you do, you’ve missed the purpose of Josiah’s life. If you do, you’ve missed the purpose of your life.”

As one who saw Lawson grow into young manhood, these words noticeably comforted the audience.

“All of us are alike ‘cause your eyes are the biggest liar in the world,” said Katauri Thompson another Brother’s United member. “Look past what you see on the outside and know what’s inside, whether it’s knowledge, power, and love. Josiah was all of that.”

“This is the hard part where we ask for the community: What now?”

Lawson will be continually memorialized in the hearts of many throughout the HSU community and especially those who he has met along the way. Even though his presence on campus was halted by this sudden event, Lawson made his time memorable and accomplished many admirable goals including his election as president of the Brother’s United club and succeeding in his Criminal Justice studies.

Many can learn from this event, not only from its unfortunateness or lesson in communal safety, but as a reminder to keep living by the positivity and respect that one would expect for themselves or say, even their own child. Lawson was known to treat others with that respect and it was a shared gift to have him as a part of the Humboldt State University community for as long as we did.

Rest in peace, David Josiah Lawson.


Students question campus safety after fatal stabbing in April

By Noel DiBenedetto
Flapjack staff

As a student of color, 19 year-old sophomore Branden Black said it’s hard for him to feel safe on campus after the recent fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old HSU student just off campus.

“We claim to a be a school of diversity and inclusion but I don’t see it,” Black said. “That could have very well been a racially motivated attack, and the fact that something like that could happen to me, that my life could end in a matter of seconds, doesn’t make me feel safe walking home every day.”

Just over two weeks ago, David Josiah Lawson was murdered April 16 at a party located close to campus. Lawson was president of Brothers United.  Charges against 23 year-old McKinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner were dismissed Friday, May 5, due to what a judge called a lack of evidence.

Now, grief stricken students are left in shock, and some are questioning whether or not they actually feel safe on their own campus.

HSU represents itself as a peaceful and earth-loving community that aims to promote diversity and inclusiveness for all of its students, which is why some may find this recent attack so hard to swallow.

Many students of color have also expressed feeling a lack of support from their institution, and feel as though they are simply treated as bodies that help boost HSU’s diversity numbers. The loss of Lawson has perpetuated these feelings.

Although the university has put effort in to reaching out to students, making sure they are provided with counseling services and emotional support, whether or not they have made changes in their security measures remains unclear.

Business student Christian Antuna, 22, said that, for the most part, he feels safe on campus during the day, but suggests that security and university police should be more active around campus at night.

“I constantly see campus security during the day, but never at night, and I think that’s a problem,” Antuna explained. “After 10, it seems like they’re dormant or something, and it can get pretty sketchy around here at night.”

While the attack happened off campus, university police has jurisdiction within a mile in all directions around HSU’s campus, which covers a lot of ground including Spear Avenue where Lawson was murdered.

Many witnesses of the attack have expressed their extreme frustration with how the police and paramedics chose to handle the situation once they actually got there, which some say took far too long in the first place.

Records show that police arrived on the scene within one minute of receiving the first 911 call. The first EMTs were on the scene within seven minutes. During that interval, several of the individuals present felt as though the police were blatantly ignoring their cries for help, and that they focused too much on keeping things under control, rather than trying to save Lawson.

While an event like this would cause anyone to feel uneasy about going out at night in their community, several students on this campus still feel as though there isn’t enough being done to ensure the safety of themselves and their loved ones.

Associate Dean of Students Christine Mata thinks that part of the answer lies in strengthening the ties between the community and the students, and strengthening the line of communication between the students, and the institution.

“Improving our safety means we have to create that sense of community, we have to know what our resources are, and we have to be there for each other,” Mata said. “We really need to create that sense of taking care of each other, and being there for each other. I think that’s really important, especially during a time like this.”

Calling 911 on a cell extends wait for emergency services in Trinity County

By Christine Ledman
Flapjack staff

Deep in the Emerald Triangle, response times for help can be anywhere from 10 minutes to seven hours or more depending on the distance between you and emergency services. Calling from a cell phone will always increase this response time adding a few additional minutes to 15 minutes or more depending on the situation.
911 services were installed in the early ’80s in California. All cell phone 911 calls are transferred to the California Highway Patrol’s Public Service Answering Points (PSAP). These PSAPs contact local dispatchers who will then dispatch police, fire, and ambulances. Landlines route directly to the closest local dispatcher. If you have a smart phone and have location services activated, the location will also be transferred to the PSAP to indicate exactly where you are calling from. The local PSAP will then call the local dispatcher and provide this information.
Trinity County does not have a PSAP. Cell phone calls from this area this area are routed to the PSAP in Redding or Sacramento. These folks hundreds of miles away will take the information from the caller and then relay this information to the Trinity County Sheriff’s dispatch, who will then page the needed assistance. Again, calling 911 from a landline will go directly to the Trinity dispatcher.
Hayfork and Weaverville have ambulance services available 24 X 7.
“We have seen delays of up to 10 minutes or more by the time we get the page,” said Ryan Howell, an employee of the Trinity County Life Support Ambulance Service.
Howell also said that 10 minutes can be the difference between life and death.
If location services is not turned on the delay can be even longer. The caller may have to describe where they are since there are not visible street addresses in most the county. Determining which county the call is originating from can be a major problem for the PSAP if the location is not forwarded with the call. It may take several minutes for the PSAP to determine which dispatcher needs to be contacted. This situation could possibly happen anywhere in California if the caller does not know what county they are in.
Trinity County has 13 small Volunteer Fire Departments. Roman Rubalcaba, a retired professional fireman became the Fire Chief in Hayfork. Rubalcaba said that the Hayfork Volunteer Fire Department of twelve people, 8 men and 4 women, receive approximately forty calls a month for fire, medical, and car accidents.
“I am working with the public to help them understand that if you call from a land line the call will go directly to the dispatcher in the Trinity County’s Sheriff Department, for the fastest response,” said Rubalcaba. “Many people here only have cells phones which just adds to our response time and sometimes makes it very difficult for us to find them, even if they are at home”.
One of the firefighters is Lisa Hammill of Hayfork.
“Sometimes we have to search for callers by location description and knowing there has already been quite a bit of time since the call came in it just adds to urgency of the situation,” said Hamill.
Hamill also spoke of the cell phone issue and how she is working with everyone she meets to make sure they understand how to set their phone up for fastest response.
Another option rather than 911 is to call directly to the Trinity County Sheriff’s office. The dispatcher said they received 7436 calls in 2016. They couldn’t provide how many of them were 911. One suggestion they had was to fill out a form to register your cell phone number with your home address and provide it to them. This would allow your home address to pop up if you do make a call to the Sheriff’s office rather than 911. It also allows them to reach out to you with urgent law enforcement or safety messages.
This number could be busy, so you might have to call back several times to speak to someone.
The Trinity Sheriff’s Department consists of the Sheriff and 7 deputies. This small crew covers 3,208 square miles and is backed up by the California Highway Patrol. A ten-minute delay in calling for help can make a big difference when the closest law enforcement may already be several hours away.
The quickest response times will always come from landlines but they are expensive. Most of Trinity County has only one provider, Verizon, so residents can’t shop around. The Federal Government has a program called Lifeline that assists low income people in getting cell phones and land lines. The Verizon representative said to qualify you have to have a valid non post office box mailing address which nobody has in Trinity County.
Trinity County Supervisor Bobbi Chadwick, a long-time Hayfork residence, was not aware of the situation with 911 calls.
“This is news to me, but sure seems like something that we should look into,” said Chadwick.
John Fenley, another Trinity County Supervisor was aware of the 911 differences.
“It is possible to ask Verizon to change this, but due to the cellular network configuration there is no guarantee that the call is originating in Trinity County,” said Fenley.
It does not look like there will be changes in the routing of 911 calls in Trinity County or anywhere in California at any time soon so it is important to have your cell phone set-up to provide your location information to assist in the fastest help possible.

Trimming in the hills of Humboldt

By Jordan Colombo
Flapjack staff

Vanessa Rau is a 22-year-old German girl who graduated from Duisburg-Essen University in Duisburg Germany. With her mother living in Germany and her father living in Vancouver Canada she has had duel citizenship. Rau often frequents visits to Humboldt county to work on “The Hill” to make some money. However, Rau stopped after a friend of hers almost died from an overdose.

Rau graduated college and with a bachelor’s in sociology then moved in with her father to get away from her life in Germany.

“Life was good in Germany,” Rau said. “But the people are a bit the same and I wanted something better and more fulfilling in my life.”

When she had gotten to Vancouver, she started meeting people and found a job working at a bar in the Gastown area of downtown. She had met a few regulars that she would talk with about going to Humboldt county to trim weed on “The Hill.” At first she was skeptical of it, then the job eventually sounded better. Rau knew, at the time, that growing marijuana and trimming it were illegal in California. After some convincing by her new friends she has took her opportunity to go on the endeavor.

Rau took a few weeks off from work telling her boss that she wanted to go see her mother whom she had not see quite some time now. Her boss understood that it must be hard to be so far away from home for the first time. Now with no work for two weeks, Rau took the 12-hour drive to Arcata, California, in September, where she would be living with her friends in a van.

“I was very skeptical at first, but began to relax once we figured out a way to make the van more comfortable,” Rau said.

Humboldt County has a large marijuana growing industry because of its vast forestry and its perfect climate. However, illegal growers have done a lot of detrimental damage to the forest. The growers can drain lakes that provide water to local animals and drain the land of its nutrients. Local law enforcement are constantly flying helicopters over the redwood forest to find spots that growers can be found, by looking for openings where plant life looks organized and having see through sheds near them. Then they send the ground troops to further investigate where they can find signs of growing with large pumps leading to lakes near by rivers.

When Rau arrived in Arcata it had reminded her a bit of Vancouver a bit because of all the transients that are hanging around.

“Vancouver has a huge homeless problem,” Rau said. “Most of Canada is cold, so the homeless come to Vancouver because it is the warmest place for them to go.”

She acclimated to the lifestyle of Humboldt County very fast. When her first day of work had come she was nervous because it was a long drive from Arcata to”The Hill” where she was working. She had taken many turns and many dirt roads.

“The roads were so small you could not fit two cars coming from opposite directions,” she said. “The trees sheltered the road from the sun giving this whole ride an ominous look.”

When Rau arrived on “The Hill” there was an open field with a small trailer on it and a makeshift shed that was close to the trailer. In the shed there were people working at a table while another man stood behind them just watching making sure that no one steals.

“I remember watching movies about drug dealers where there are guns everywhere, but this was nothing of the sort,” Rau explained. Inside the trailer was a kitchen as well as some plants hanging around.

Laura Trudladu, a 24-year-old from Tübingen, Germany, is now an Arcata resident living in a grow house.

“I met Vanessa a few times,” Trudladu said. “She would come down our driveway in a van full of people from all over the world.”

Trudladu said that she has met people from everywhere living in a grow house and was nice to meet Rau because she actually got to speak her native tongue.

The man that was watching over the others had explained to Rau that she was to trim the marijuana leaves as close to the bud as she could and then throw this into a bucket. She was instructed to not throw her buds into anyone else’s bucket. Because workers were paid by total weight of the trimmed marijuana, such contributions would benefit the other person who owned the bucket.

When it was time to pay Rau, the person watching her would take her total trimmed bucket, weigh a bucket that was the same, but empty to zero out the weight, than would weigh the bucket full of marijuana and take the total weight divide it by a pound in grams (454) then times it by 100. The first time she worked she had worked over 25 hours, but only was able to produce three pounds of trimmed marijuana, which turned out to be $300. The longer she did it the better she got at sitting there longer and being able to trim faster.

Rau would continue to travel back and forward from Vancouver to Arcata to keep working on “The Hill” for a few more years until she realized that doing this type of work was not for her.

“It was fun at first, but it got tiring and I saw some friends got hurt,” Rau explained. She said that some employers would provide you with cocaine to keep you awake and keep you working longer. What made her quit working was that one time her friend was dropped off near a place they were staying at with a nose bleeding and twitching a bit from too much cocaine.

Alden Haro, who had been working on “The Hill” for five years, had also been with the friend that got dropped off.

“It was the scariest thing I had ever experienced,” Haro said. “I thought I was about to lose one of my best friend.”

After that, Rau never went back to work on “The Hill” but she still frequents Arcata often.

“Arcata is a beautiful town with beautiful people that has so many secrets in the town and in the trees,” she said.

Dialogue on criminal justice organizer seeks change through compassion

By Kyra Skylark
Flapjack Staff

Organizer of a recent HSU campus dialogue on criminal justice, Vanessa Virtiak was born and attended schools in Humboldt. Today she works as the programs coordinator at the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, working to better her community.

“For me it has never been an option to not do that, to not go out into the world and do my best to create change,” said Vrtiak.

She works to repair the criminal justice system because she knows just how broken it really is.

Vrtiak’s mother was incarcerated in 2000.

Upon release, her mother had no money, no job, no home, and no help. Vrtiak and her mother were homeless. Vrtiak’s mother was unable to find work after incarceration and unable to overcome the stigma that followed her her.

She is still homeless today.

The criminal justice system failed Vrtiak and her mother, so she, with the help of many other individuals, is working to change the system. Two weeks ago at HSU, a criminal justice dialogue was held to examine the effects of incarceration on families, how race and gender influence incarceration, as well as other issues within the criminal justice system. The dialogue was one of multiple events organized by Vrtiak; beginning with an art exhibit featuring art from those incarcerated in our local jail, and a Re-entry Fair to bring local employers into the prison. Vrtiak brought people from other programs, to help her start a discussion within our community. She had a vision.

“To bring light to these issues, to the lack of resources in our community, to break down the stigma that exists, and to show that theses are real people that are impacted by the criminal justice system,” said Vrtiak.

The dialogue enabled community members to stand up and share their opinions on our local justice system. In an informative and safe environment people came together to bring about change, and they were brought together by one individual, Vanessa Vrtiak.

Representatives from Prisoners with Children, Project What, Homeboy Industries, and many other criminal justice programs/organizations came to be apart of the dialogue. Vrtiak wanted to show the community, as well as the local officials, some programs and policies implemented in other counties that could exist here in our community.

Vrtiak’s fianc, Ulyses Dorantes watched her plan the event for six months.

“The more I heard about what she was actually able to accomplish, the people that she was able to get all the way up here to speak, and the funding sources she was able to pull together, I was really moved,” said Dorantes.

Many incredible speakers told their stories at the Criminal Justice Dialogue. Children of incarcerated parents spoke out about their experiences, previously incarcerated individuals shared their stories, many people came together to tell their truths, their stories.

“There is power in listening to someone’s story, and the people here, that are sharing their stories, are people,” said Vrtiak.

This is what Vrtiak wants people to understand. The individuals that we label ‘criminals,’ that word doesn’t define them. They have families, they have fears, and they have hopes; most importantly they deserve to be helped.

Tailani Wilson, 17, was one of the presenters for the youth organization Project What!. She told her story on how her life has been affected by the criminal justice system.

“I had never really thought of my dad’s incarceration as an issue, it was just my life,” said Wilson.

It was only after she joined Project What! that she began to acknowledge the impact her dad’s incarceration has had on her life. Wilson’s story explained firsthand what it means to be a child with an incarcerated parent, to be, “in jail mentally.” Listening to her story was powerful. The dialogue was educational and truthful, but it was also painful. There are many whose lives have been forever changed by the system.

Those that attended the Criminal Justice dialogue were apart of an incredible event. Vrtiak worked for six months finding the speakers, setting up the dialogue, and the other events. Those who know her saw her commitment and passion.

“I was really happy to help in any way I could; not just as her partner, but as someone who deeply cares about positions as well,” said Dorantes. “I have been moved to care tremendously more so, because of everything I’ve learned in my experience here.”

Vrtiak inspired people.

Vrtiak’s desire to change the way the incarcerated are treated brought together individuals of similar ideals. Able to come together and discuss the problems within the criminal justice system, our community has taken steps towards change.

“The value of listening, that, is truly the greatest gift you can give someone. And it breeds compassion, which I think is ultimately missing from this conversation,” said Vrtiak.