The next day you go down to the Amherst Police Station to file charges against the guys. Instead, you're arrested and charged with attempted murder!
That's what happened to Jason Vassell on February 8, 2008. While the two white guys admitted to be drinking that night, one was charged with a misdemeanor and the other not charged at all.
Robert Thrasher, the on-call police lieutenant of the UMass campus police, appears to believe the event was a drug deal gone bad. (Vassell, being black, had to be a drug drealer, right?) This was true even though, according to the Valley Advocate and Vassell's attorneys,
Thrasher was in possession of police records that described numerous incidents involving Bowes; in at least one case he was charged with a civil rights violation for attacking a black man. Bosse’s rap sheet is similarly lengthy, and includes two incidents in which he became physical with the police. Once—nine days before the incident at UMass, according to court documents—he attacked an off-duty Hispanic police officer and an Asian fireman; in another incident 25 days after his encounter with Vassell, the record shows, Bosse attacked a mounted officer and his horse. It’s since been alleged that the two run in a gang-like group who call themselves the “East Milton Mafia.”Jason was told by the UMass administration that he needed either to withdraw from school or face expulsion. Jason, who still hopes to become a doctor, chose to withdraw rather than have an expulsion on his record.
Much of the UMass student body and a number of professors feel the whole process has been tainted with racism and have formed the Justice for Jason Coalition along with many community organizations. They've mobilized to be in court for every hearing for Jason, who is now living at home with his parents in Mattapan.
On January 15th Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunphy Farris asked the judge to move Jason Vassell’s case out of Hampshire County, claiming that Jason’s supporters and defense had distributed sensitive information about the case to the media to infect the jury pool. The Judge promptly informed Ms. Farris that all documents, including the Motion to Dismiss, are in fact public court documents.In spite of the substantial community support Jason Vassell is receiving, the outcome is far from certain.
The Committee for Justice for Jason Responded to the request by releasing the following:
“At this hearing the Deputy First Assistant District Attorney now in charge of prosecuting Jason, Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, was clearly concerned by the support that the Committee for Justice for Jason has continued to mobilize for almost a year now. The fact that the prosecutor and the DA’s office are getting uncomfortable, frustrated, and accusatory is due largely to the success of the Justice for Jason campaign in shining a spotlight on this case. District Attorney offices and police departments around the country rely on the lack of transparency with most court cases. They thrive on the secrecy. But now this DA office is scared…scared of having to be accountable to a public that they have, until now, kept in the dark. The DA is elected by her constituency and must therefore be accountable to that constituency. It is clear that DA Scheibel does not want to be accountable. This case and the DA’s racist choices therein highlight the need for an open and transparent criminal justice system–both here in the Northwestern District and in the country at large.” Justice for Jason.
Three events are coming up to assist with Jason's defense and to show widening community support.
On Wednesday, February 18, at the Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton, MA, the judge will be hearing a Motion to Dismiss filed by Jason's lawyers “on the grounds that the defendant has been selectively prosecuted because of his race, in violation of the rights guaranteed him by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Articles I and XII of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”
On February 21, a Silent Auction will be held to raise funds for Jason's defense because although Jason's attorneys, David P. Hoose and Luke Ryan of Amherst and John Reinstein from the Massachusetts ACLU are working pro bono, there are a number of other costs. The Justice for Jason Coalition is still seeking donations of goods and services.
Then, on March 7, if the Motion to Dismiss has been denied, organizers are calling for a national march in support of Jason Vassell. Organizers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there's anyone out there who believes that racism automatically came to an end on the day we elected a Black man as president, Jason's case reminds us how far we still have to go.