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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘Justice for Jason’ escalates on anniversary; Trial approaches for the former UMass Amherst student

Jason Vassell, former UMass Amherst student, continues to await his trial for an on-camps assault that took place on February 3, 2008.

Vassell, an African American, was involved in a controversial incident in which race was allegedly a factor. During a confrontation with two Caucasian men, John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse, Vassell, in alleged self-defense, stabbed both men with a pocketknife. The two men precedently escalated the conflict by a series of provocations, including throwing a brick that shattered Vassell’s dorm window, taunting racial slurs, and a punch that broke Vassell’s nose.

Both men from Milton are not students at the university and were trespassing.

Vassell contacted the UMass Police Department later that day to press charges against Bosse and Bowes, but ended up being arrested himself.

UMass Amherst offered Vassell the decision to either voluntarily drop out or face expulsion. A biology major with a semester left in his senior year, Vassell had no realistic options and decided to simply leave.

Vassell was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of armed assault with intent to murder. In contrast, Bowes was charged with two hate crimes and disorderly conduct and faces a maximum of four years in prison. Bosse was never charged.

If convicted, Vassell faces a possible prison sentence of up to 30 years.

The controversial arrest fueled the passion of protesters who marched for “Justice for Jason.” Organized by the Justice for Jason Vassell Committee (CJJV), the movement called for a stand against institutionalized racism and police misconduct.

In addition to the massive rally in Amherst, the committee organized a “call-in” that opened participation in the movement to the national public. Citizens called the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office to express their concern with Vassell’s case. District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who has been under heavy scrutiny from the public, has the power to remove the charges on Vassell.

Many UMass students and staff are questioning whether Vassell’s charges were too drastic due to racist assumptions underlying the actions of both the UMPD and the district attorney’s office or if Vassell’s actions as self-defense were just too drastic.

In the United States, self-defense allows a person attacked to use reasonable force in their own defense and the defense of others.

However, as written by Eli Rosenwaike of the UMass Amherst student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, “committee members specially called out for an investigation of UMPD lieutenant Robert Thrasher, who is claimed to have led a racist investigation.”

Thrasher could not be reached for a comment.

Later that night, a vigil was held in respect for Vassell. Supporters stood outside Vassell’s former dorm room window.

Vassell awaits a pretrial hearing in Hampshire Superior Scout on February 18th. The judge will hear Vassell’s motion to dismiss the charges.

For additional information regarding ‘Justice for Jason’ visit the official website of the movement at www.justiceforjason.org