Death of the ‘lone soldier’
Murdered Chico State student and activist Marc Thompson remembered
“Death can be a time of sorrow or celebration, anger or happiness, peace or unrest; it is for each of us to decide how we welcome this inevitable phase, both for ourselves and those we love,” 25-year-old Marc Thompson wrote in his first published essay, which appeared Sept. 14 in the Turkish newspaper Evrensel.
Tragically, the article—a personal statement on race relations spurred by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.—was published posthumously. Thompson was the Chico State student and burgeoning political activist whose body was discovered Sept. 3 on Highway 70, 2 miles east of the remote community of Mountain House.
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case as a homicide, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding Thompson’s death—his body was found burned in his vehicle—have led some to speculate if the crime was racially motivated.
“We are a concerned network of citizens who will be vigilant in our expectation that law enforcement will vigorously investigate the death of Marc Thompson, including whether a hate crime was committed,” reads a press release issued Monday (Sept. 15) by a half-dozen-strong consortium of local human rights groups—including the Butte County NAACP, Chico Peace and Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. “Tragically, in our violent culture, the murder of black young men has become all too common.”
If there is a racial element to the crime, other passages from Thompson’s Evrensel piece, titled “The Troubled Lenses of Humanity,” could prove eerily prophetic: “I was taught from a very early age that America was a dangerous place for me because I was a black male,” he wrote. “This would mean I’d have to navigate my way in this country in a different manner than my white counter-parts. From job discrimination to being followed when I shop in stores, I’ve come to know first hand that White America is afraid of me; what I’ve always found funny is that the feeling’s mutual.
“On a daily basis I fear for my culture, my future, and at times my very life. So I then began to ask the question, ‘If I fear them, and they fear me, how will we ever come together to understand each other?’”
There is no doubt Thompson’s death is a homicide, BCSO Lt. Al Smith said on Tuesday (Sept. 16).
“The evidence leaves us no other potentials,” he said.
The investigation is currently the BCSO’s “No. 1 priority,” Smith said, but no suspects or motives—racial or otherwise—have been identified thus far. Smith was reticent to provide further details regarding Thompson’s injuries or any other information about the crime scene, as it could jeopardize the investigation.
“It is, obviously, a very tragic situation,” Smith said. “All of us in the unit have been personally affected by this young man’s death, as we realize many in the public have, and we are devoting every available resource in the hopes we can solve the case as soon as possible.”
Friends of Thompson, an avid hiker and Oroville native, became aware he was missing on Sept. 5, when a family member posted to Facebook he had not been seen in several days. BCSO made the official announcement identifying Thompson as the burned victim on Sept. 10. Students gathered on campus to remember him the next day, and the university’s flag flew at half-staff in Thompson’s honor on Sept. 12.
Thompson transferred to Chico State from Butte College in 2011. A sociology major minoring in psychology and gender and sexuality, he was expected to graduate this semester. Thompson became involved in diversity issues at Butte, and his passion for social justice grew after he transferred. At Chico State, he was active on the Associated Students Multicultural Affairs Council and in the campus Sociology Club, and in 2012-13 served as A.S. commissioner for multicultural affairs.
Krystle Tonga is the assistant program coordinator at the university’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center—where Thompson could often be found—as well as his friend, former neighbor and fellow activist. She said she first met and became impressed with Thompson at a 2010 Butte College diversity conference, and last saw him when a group of friends went out on the town a week before his death.
“Marc was passionate, driven, strong and proud to be a black man,” Tonga said. “He was a true activist, on campus and off; he was very vocal and very intense, but intense with a purpose. The fight for social justice was his entire world.
“Some people would be intimidated to get in conversations with him because he had a very strong presence,” she continued. “He was very articulate and educated, and had the ability to challenge people and make them think.”
Tonga said Thompson was fearless and unwavering in his conviction, and always willing to challenge the status quo, even when forced to carry on as a “lone soldier.” As an example, she cited a personal stand he made when serving as an elected member of the A.S.
“After he was elected multicultural affairs commissioner, he would come to all the meetings and functions dressed in baggy jeans, a white T-shirt or polo and a do-rag on his head,” she recalled. “This prompted some of the other A.S. officers to try to implement a ‘business casual’ dress code. They said they wanted members to represent themselves as ‘professional,’ to wear slacks, ties and button-down shirts.”
She said Thompson questioned why “professional” had to mean the way white, upper-middle-class men dress.
“As a form of protest he wore those baggy jeans and do-rag to every meeting and every function he attended as an officer,” she added. “He said the people voted him in dressed like that, and that’s how he was going to stay.”
Butte College anthropology professor Ayse Taskiran said she met Thompson at a campus conference on racism six years ago, and the two remained friends. She encouraged him to write the piece published in Evrensel.
“He had so much to say, he was such a great speaker, a great writer, and was going to be a great leader someday,” she said. “He was the dream student that every teacher hopes to have the opportunity to work with.”