A new look at ‘Justice for Jason’

The Jason Vassell case had all the right ingredients for a bonafide hate crime – the victimized young black man, the violent and bigoted white kids, and the racist legal system. Unfortunately, the police report details seem to offer contrary insight.

The case has been followed by campus news since last February, when an African American UMass student named Jason Vassell reportedly stabbed two white, non-students – John Bowes, 20, and Jonathan Bosse, 19 – around 4 a.m. in the lobby of Vassell’s dorm, MacKimmie. According to the Committee for Justice for Jason Vassell, also known as CJJV, Vassell stabbed the men in self-defense, after being accosted with racial slurs and punched in the face. Now, Vassell is being charged with aggravated assault and Bowes is being charged with a civil rights violation.

The incident captivated UMass for months. Furious activists saw Vassell as the victim of a hate crime and created the CJJV, which is calling for the legal system to drop charges against Vassell and bring more serious charges against Bosse and Bowes.

But that’s only part of the story. The local media and the CJJV – made up of some Student Government Association leaders, including President Malcolm Chu – have neglected to report numerous important details about the case. Additionally, the CJJV has been using a fragmented and seemingly skewed recap of the events to collect donations and support from sympathetic students and community members.

Though the CJJV Web site has pages of information on the case, it implies a scenario that does not appear to be entirely supported by the police report. It implies that Vassell was blindsided by Bosse and Bowes, and was then forced to use his pocket knife to defend himself against their two-on-one attack.

The police report indicates a slightly different story. It says that the 5’10, 200 lb. Vassell armed himself with two weapons before leaving his dorm room to meet up with a male friend, who he had specifically called to help him in the event of a fight. The police report read, “[Bowes’ and Bosse’s use of racial slurs] enraged Vassell. He called a friend to help him. Vassell armed himself with an iron and a pocket knife and went to the ground floor of MacKimmie.”

The CJJV also purposefully avoids mentioning Bowes’ and Bosse’s injuries, leading us to believe that they were not seriously hurt by Vassell. But according to the security camera footage, Vassell stabbed Bowes and Bosse nine times, causing them significant blood loss which resulted in emergency surgery at Bay State trauma center. The CJJV calls Vassell’s actions “self-defense.”

While everyone loves a good self-defense story, according to Massachusetts law, this argument only works if the force used is equal to the force received. Stabbing someone who has punched you certainly goes far beyond what most consider excessive. “After the fist fight broke out,” the police report states, “Vassell drew a knife and an iron, repeatedly stabbed both Bosse and Bowes