On February 3, 2008 Jason Vassell was the target of a racist hate crime. Since then he has been further victimized by a racist prosecution. We, a coalition of community organizations, students and faculty, seek your support in challenging this racist prosecution.
Early on the morning of February 3, 2008, Jason Vassell, an African American student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was in his dormitory room with two female friends, when two intoxicated white men—John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse—approached his window. According to Bowes and Bosse, a friend of theirs lived in the dorm and they approached Jason’s window with the request that he let them in. However, several eyewitnesses—including the two female friends in Jason’s room at the time—reported that upon approaching Jason’s window, Bowes and Bosse immediately began a tirade of vicious racial slurs, yelling such invective as “your family were slaves,” and demanding that Jason come out to fight with them. Jason adamantly refused to fight the two men and repeatedly told them to leave his window.
When Jason pulled down his window shade, his window was broken by a blow from the outside. For support, Jason called a friend and fellow UMass student, while resident assistants in the dormitory called the UMass police. When Jason let his friend in, Bowes and Bosse hurried through the door and confronted Jason again in the lobby of the dormitory. More eyewitness reports and surveillance camera footage show Bowes and Bosse continuing their verbal assault on Jason demanding that he fight them. Asserting that he did not want to fight, Jason showed Bosse and Bowes the pocketknife he used for electrical work, asking them to leave. Before long, this verbal assault evolved into a physical assault when John Bowes landed a punch on Jason’s face, breaking his nose. Subsequent blows gave Jason a concussion. Fearing for his life, Jason was forced to defend himself with his pocketknife, injuring both of his assailants before running behind a locked door for protection. Still, Bosse and Bowes’ attack did not stop. Bowes and Bosse banged on the security door screaming racial slurs at Jason, challenging him to finish the fight.
As a result of defending himself against this unprovoked assault, Jason, the victim of the attack, was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon. These charges carry a possible 30-year prison sentence. One of the perpetrators, John Bowes, was charged only with misdemeanors carrying a maximum 18-month sentence. On March 13, 2009 a jury acquitted John Bowes of a misdemeanor civil rights violation and found him guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The other attacker, Jonathan Bosse, was never charged.
On December 31st 2008, Jason’s defense submitted a Motion to Dismiss his charges on the grounds of selective prosecution. This 52-page document lays out in greater detail the events summarized above, informed by radio transcripts of the UMass Police responding to the incident, taped interviews between police investigators and Bowes and Bosse, eyewitness statements, the criminal histories of Bowes and Bosse, as well as the charges that could have been brought against Bowes and Bosse. This document has demonstrated that both Bowes and Bosse have histories of violent racially motivated assaults; that the UMass Police Department’s investigation was racially biased by immediately assuming Jason’s guilt while treating Bowes and Bosse with care and respect; and that the prosecution has continued this bias through their selective prosecution of Jason Vassell.
Jason’s defense also submitted a Motion for Discovery, requesting access to police and prosecution files pertaining to previous cases involving race on the basis of that this prosecution is selective. In the face of the District Attorney’s unconvincing rebuttal to motion, the presiding Judge Judd C. Carhart ruled that Jason’s defense has shown "a prima facie case showing that a reasonable inference could be drawn that he is the subject of selective prosecution." Carhart granted Jason’s defense access to the last five years of case files of the District Attorney’s office in which involved parties were of different racial backgrounds among other critical files. The prosecution has recently chosen to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court, a move that we can only read as an effort to hide a history of biased prosecution within the District Attorney’s office. The appeal was denied, and we are currently awaiting the files from the discovery order.
It was disturbing enough that Jason Vassell was subjected to a severe physical attack and an assault on his spirit. What we have subsequently witnessed has been an even more shameful violation both of Jason’s rights and of the community’s values of justice and equality irrespective of race. We have watched the Northwestern District Attorney’s office march forward with no apparent regard for the potentially explosive racial implications of this case. The question here is one of justice and fairness; one of making a decision that is right. It is a question of justice for Jason and—equally important—of whether the interests and well-being of the community are being served by this prosecution. Faced with a case in which the violent and racist motivations of Jason’s white attackers were clear, the District Attorney has chosen to pursue excessive charges against a young black victim with no criminal record and an exemplary academic and personal reputation. Therefore, we stand as a community united for true justice, demanding that the District Attorney drop all charges against Jason Vassell.
To find out more about the case, the coalition or to contact us click on the appropriate link above. If you’d like to get involved in fighting for Justice for Jason on a local or national level, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org