Vassell supporters claim to see profiling connections between Vassell case and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In a July 22 Boston Globe Op-Ed, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Carol Rose, suggested that “we’re a long way from being a ‘post-racial’ society in Massachusetts.” This said in response to the July 16th arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
According to the incident report printed by the Cambridge Police Department, Gates was “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public place.” Rose advocated, “the arrest of [Gates]… while trying to open the front door to his home is the latest reminder that racism is alive and well even in the most progressive enclaves of Massachusetts.”
Members from the Committee for Justice for Jason believe they have found distinct connections between Gates’ arrest and former UMass student Jason Vassell’s ongoing trial. In an interview with the Valley Post, Committee member Kate Traub said, “I’m angry, but I can’t say it surprises me. It does surprise me that it happened in this area with its history of community justice programs.”
“Maybe the Cambridge police officer was instead following the example set in the case of Jason Vassell,” said Rose.
Over the past 17 months Vassell’s lawyers have attempted to make the case that Vassell was prosecuted on the basis of his race. His lawyers cited the past incidences of alleged racial violence of his attackers and the alleged racial bias of the UMass Police during their investigation process.
“I think that circumstance had a significant effect on the way that Jason acted the night of the incident,” stated Committee member Joe Mirkin. “When white people are calling you a nigger and they enter the space where you live, given the history of racism in this country, you have to err on the side of caution assuming that your life is in danger.” Defend himself he did, according to the motion to dismiss Vassell’s charges, when he indicated that, “he was terrified and realized that ‘if I don’t do something, I’m going to die’.”
In an interview with Christopher Ott, Communications Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, he told the Collegian that, “both [cases] raise serious questions about unequal treatment of people of color by police and our legal system.”
The ACLU recently joined Vassell’s defense team in an effort to dismiss all charges against Vassell on the grounds that it has been a discriminatory prosecution. Ott continued his thoughts on the case by stating, “Why does the African-American victim face more serious charges than the intoxicated white assailants who invaded his dormitory and assaulted him?” Ott also drew parallels to Gates’ arrest by saying, “Would a white person have ever ended up being arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’ under similar circumstances, or have been suspected of committing a crime in the first place?”
A July 26 press release sent out by the Committee for Justice for Jason claims racial profiling has led to phrases such as “driving while black,” but in the wake of Vassell’s case and Gates’ arrest they suggest that “perhaps a new phrase might soon take on a cultural meaning- ‘being home while black.’”
Derek Khanna, president of the UMass Republican Club commented on the matter by stating, “I am repulsed by the idea that disagreeing with an officer inside of one’s home could be considered disorderly conduct.” He went on to say, “Americans should have the right to be disorderly within their own homes provided that they do not threaten others.”
While Vassell has stated that he no longer wishes to return to UMass, due in part to the administration’s reaction to his arrest, no efforts have been made by the administration to re-enroll Vassell as a student. Although Chancellor Holub was not at UMass when Vassell was arrested, he and his administration have said there is nothing they can do to reinstate Vassell at the University.
Mirkin says, “This is nothing more than an insincere act of avoiding responsibility and misrepresenting the situation facing Jason when he was attacked and wrongfully charged.”
Meanwhile, Khanna, held the opinion, “I think the Dean’s Office system is ridiculous in how it handles these cases to begin with, and I think the entire system needs serious overhaul, but I don’t think the Dean of Students office’s actions are nearly as unethical as the SGA’s actions regarding paying for Jason Vassell’s defense.”
Khanna was referring to allegations surrounding the use of SGA funds to purchase T-shirts that were sold to support Vassell’s legal defense fund.
In the ACLU newsletter Rose said, “This case raises serious questions about racial bias. It’s bad enough that Jason Vassell had to endure racial slurs and a violent attack from intruders in his dormitory, and it’s very hard to understand why he now faces far more serious charges than the two white assailants he defended himself against.”
The Committee for Justice for Jason discussed how they would like to see the UMass community and American society at large change in the wake of Vassell’s case and Gates’ arrest. “[We] would like for everyone’s peace and worth as humans to be valued the same, be they black, white, brown, male, female, queer, trans, gay, straight, young, middle-aged, elderly, rich, middle-class, poor, homeless, differently abled, and regardless of occupation, religious or political background. Hate crimes take place against people of all stripes, and they are equally reprehensible in every form and manifestation.”