By Casey Barton
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.