A large banner with a powerful message was displayed upon Stanislaus State’s entrance of the Dorothy & Bill Bizzini Hall. It called for justice and recognition to an issue that happened almost a year and a half ago. The banner read, “Justice for Josiah” and called attention to what happened on the night of April 15, 2017, which forever changed the environment of Humboldt State in Arcata, California, as well as how the CSU system responds to social injustices.
On that night, Josiah Lawson, a criminal justice major from Humboldt State, was stabbed and killed after leaving a house party. One suspect, Kyle Zoellner, was charged with Josiah Lawson’s murder and after 5 days of a preliminary hearing, was taken to court. Following the court trial, Zoellner was granted freedom in response to insufficient evidence which started to raise suspicions among the student community. Students and activists didn't take the hearing’s results lightly, and responded with protests, rallies, and posters all expressing the same thing: “Justice for Josiah.”
Many questions surfaced around why Lawson's trial was not only so fast but also why it was suspiciously dismissed due to a lack of "evidence." Questions were raised about the scene of the crime, including why was the suspect’s car allowed to leave the scene, why wasn’t the suspect's girlfriend interviewed during holding, and why is there such a lack of evidence.
Lawson's mother, who has been very involved in fighting for her son’s justice, suspects that racism plays a part in the treatment of the case by the Arcata Police Department and the officials who were in charge. According to Lawson’s mother in an interview from University Times, an online publication, two of the police officers who responded to the 911 call that night have resigned, as well as the Police Chief Chapman as of April 9, 2018.
Josiah’s mother has also created a website in honor of her son at www.justiceforjosiahlawson.com. On this website, you can find articles that talk about the meetings, Zoellner's case against the city of Arcata, and other updates about the case, although the most recent article was posted November 2, 2017.
Following the results of the trial, students and activists took to the streets two days in a row as they marched through downtown Arcata. Since the protests, Equity Arcata has been having town meetings every month to talk about what they as a community can do. Equity Arcata is a local program in the area that works on social issues by creating a welcoming, safe, and racially equitable community.
Deema Hindawi (Criminal Justice and Ethnic Studies) is one of the leaders from the ‘Justice for Josiah’ movement on Humboldt State’s campus. In an over phone interview she explained that there are about five to ten people who are working hard at keeping the memory of Josiah Lawson alive on campus.
“With the help of SQE Chapters across the CSU system, we have all communicated to do banner drops in different ways across the state,” said Hindawi. “Equity Arcata has also been having meetings once a month that try to update the community with everything going on.” Hindawi also mentioned that the case of Josiah Lawson's murder has been reopened as of September, which will hopefully shed some light on the situation.
Student Quality Education (SQE) is a CSU student program that rallies for changes to the CSU system and most importantly provides a medium for students to work for those changes. Since Lawson's death, SQE has launched many different events to talk about what happened at Humboldt State. According to their home page, CSU campuses like CSU East Bay, CSU Fullerton, Sonoma State, CSU Chico, and of course Humboldt State have all done banner drops in the month of October.
SQE also advocates other issues that are highly relevant and have an effect on CSU students. There is a list of at least 10 different issues SQE has listed on their website, CSUSQE.org. Undocumented student organizing, Free Higher Education, and tuition increases are one of the main issues brought attention to by SQE along with ‘Justice for Josiah.’ One of the ways SQE helps these movements is by providing information that will help call for change to the issue, whether it be providing a list of services for students, or presenting a plan of action to contact the local legislators.
Since Lawson’s death, SQE has launched many different discussion panels to talk about Lawson’s death. According to their home page, CSU campuses like CSU East Bay, CSU Fullerton, Sonoma State, CSU Chico, and of course Humboldt State have all done banner drops in the month of October. Fresno State had a rally while other campuses have had to teach-ins with their Black Student Union (BSU) chapters. The Black Student Union is a civil rights advocacy group started in San Francisco in the 1960s that have since expanded to almost every college and high school campuses in America.
Students and faculty members at Stan State have started to recognize the banner and those 3 words, ‘Justice for Josiah’. Adam Goeken, a former Humboldt State Student, now attends Stanislaus State. He was at the dorms at Humboldt State when he heard his girlfriend's roommate talking about what happened the night before.
“After what happened, there was a big movement of professors canceling class and students taking to the streets. I'm surprised that there are no real answers that have been found yet after so long,” said Goeken. With the banner drop on campus, students who heard about what happened a year and a half ago are being reminded to never forget. “The fact that it’s still going on 6 hours away, must be a testament to the fact due to the unfortunate set of circumstances that very simply, people want answers and closure.”
Some faculty members on campus have also started posting posters in response to SQE’s efforts to promote this movement. Vicki Harvey, a professor in the Communications Department has a Justice for Josiah poster on her office door.
With more faculty members and students starting to recognize the efforts pushed by SQE from campuses all over, students have to lead to a new wave of activism and recognition for social injustices. Although the death of Josiah Lawson was a year and a half ago, the message and movement behind it all are still alive. In order to make campuses all over for people of color and other ethnicities, these programs have made awareness of these incidents from the past to provide justice for the future.