News and reports

Justice for Jason Vassell

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.--Supporters of Jason Vassell, a 23-year-old African American student at the University of Massachusetts who is facing excessive and unfair felony charges, are organizing in his defense.

At about 4 a.m. on February 3, Vassell was in his dorm room with two female students when one of the women opened the shade to find Jonathan Bowes, a large white man, staring at them through the window. Bowes, joined by Jonathan Bosse, threatened Jason, screamed "nigger" at him and kicked in his window. The women left, the police were called, and Jason called a friend to help him.

When Jason opened the door for his friend, Bowes and Bosse barged in and broke Jason's nose. In the ensuing altercation, both of Jason's attackers were stabbed. Jason, the first to be charged, has been suspended from school and is facing two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of armed assault with intent to murder.

Days later, Bowes was charged with disorderly conduct, civil rights violations with injury, and assault and battery to intimidate with bodily injury. The fact that Jason is even being charged exposes the racist double standard of the police.

The incident comes less than a year after another UMass student was brutally beaten by an attacker who used antigay slurs. At the same time, UMass has cut funding in recent years for campus institutions that oppose racism and other forms of oppression.

This incident shows that "Jena justice" is alive and well as far away as Amherst, as is the need for struggles to oppose racism. Jason's only "crime" was defending himself from two racist attackers.

Fortunately, people stood up against racism in Jena, La., and they are standing up in Amherst, Mass. Both towns saw antiracist rallies in the wake of the justice system's persecution of the Jena 6 for protesting the hanging of nooses at a local high school. Now, UMass students, professors and community members are organizing to demand justice for Jason.

Sign a petition to protest Jason's treatment at www.ipetitions.com/petition/justiceforjason. To get involved with the campaign to defend Jason Vassell, visit www.justiceforjason.org. You can also donate at this site, to help his family in defraying the cost of Jason's legal defense, which could cost more than $15,000, You can also write a check to Esmie James, Jason Vassell's mother, and mail it to "Justice for Jason," P.O. Box 197, Amherst, MA 01004.

Chicago police victims deserve new trials

CHICAGO--On February 14, about 50 activists, exonerated prisoners and prisoners' family members rallied at the State of Illinois building to demand new trials for dozens of victims of police torture under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge.

The Valentine's Day rally, initiated by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and cosponsored by eight other organizations, targeted Attorney General Lisa Madigan, calling on her to "have a heart" and grant evidentiary hearings for all of the victims. A messenger delivered more than 30 heart-shaped balloons with the name of a torture victim on each.

Madigan took over prosecution of many of the torture cases in 2002 when a Cook County judge declared that States Attorney Dick Devine had a conflict of interest because he represented Burge in a civil suit related to torture allegations. When she ran for office that year, Madigan claimed she "would never stand in the way of justice."

Yet in more than five years on the job, she has failed to initiate one evidentiary hearing. "She made a promise...she didn't back it up," said Virginia Clements, the mother of torture victim Mark Clements, who has been in prison since 1981 when he was just 16 years old. "She hasn't made one point to do anything to help whatsoever."

Virginia read a letter to the crowd from her son. "Madigan has failed to even acknowledge nor tried to contact us...treating us as if we don't exist," Mark wrote.

Harold Hill was beaten by police detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran, who initially worked under Burge, and was exonerated in 2005. "I did 15 years for a crime I didn't commit," Hill told protesters.

At the end of the rally, Harold, Virginia and other family members of torture victims led a delegation to Madigan's office to deliver an open letter signed by nearly 200 people calling on her to grant relief to torture victims. The delegation asked to meet with Madigan who, unsurprisingly, was not there. Instead, an aide met with a small part of the delegation.

Activists and family members will not rest until all of the torture victims receive the new trials they deserve.

Week of antiwar action at Fort Lewis

SEATTLE--The Northwest regional chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) launched a week of action February 18-21 at Washington's Fort Lewis Army base and surrounding areas.

With antiwar sentiment and disgust at the military's treatment of its veterans growing among GIs, as well as a new active-duty chapter of IVAW at Fort Lewis, the week of outreach is an important step in building organized resistance to the war inside the military machine itself.

IVAW members and supporters will be handing out literature and flyers for the group, talking with GIs about their experiences and building for a benefit concert in Tacoma, Wash., at Hell's Kitchen on February 21 at 7 p.m. The show, titled "Solider, You Are Not Alone," will feature Baltimore-area hip-hop artist Son of Nun and several other groups, and is free for active-duty GIs.

The week of action will help lay the groundwork for IVAW's upcoming regional Winter Solider events in March, as well as for an antiwar demonstration March 22 in Tacoma, near Fort Lewis.

For more information on the week of action, visit www.givoice.com, a Web site for active duty GIs at Ft. Lewis.

Protesting "Justice" John Roberts

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--More than 50 people braved sub-freezing weather to protest U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during his visit here February 12. The protest, initiated by the R.I. Spring Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation (RISMC), called the right-wing Bush appointee out for his consistent opposition to civil rights.

Chanting slogans against Guantánamo and torture, protesters picketed outside of the Federal Courthouse, the site of Roberts's visit, where he planned to celebrate the building's centennial. Many of the protesters wore orange jumpsuits in solidarity with Guantánamo detainees.

The chief justice was forced to acknowledge the protesters' presence with a witless joke, claiming that activists were protesting the architecture. Members of the media, however, remarked that the chants were clearly audible inside the courthouse.

The protest was sponsored by RISMC, the American Friends Service Committee, the International Socialist Organization, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the R.I. Community Coalition for Peace, MoveOn East Bay, East Bay Citizens for Peace and others.

NYC protest for Palestinian rights

NEW YORK--Forty-five protesters called on Madison Avenue shoppers to boycott the jewelry store of Israeli billionaire and settlement magnate Lev Leviev on February 9, the last major shopping day before Valentine's Day. The protest was the seventh organized by the New York activist group Adalah-NY since Leviev's store opened in mid-November.

Activists in London also joined the campaign to boycott Leviev, with 25 protesters picketing outside Leviev's Old Bond St. store the same day. The protests were part of the fourth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which commemorates the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their land in 1948 to become what remains one of the world's largest refugee populations.

Protesters oppose Leviev's construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law, as well as his abuse of marginalized communities in Angola, where he mines diamonds, and in New York City, where he develops real estate.

Facing the shop window at Leviev New York, which was emblazoned with the words "Celebrate Love with Leviev," protesters carried red, heart-shaped signs saying "Settlements are Heartless," "Have a Heart Leviev" and "Won't You Be Just."

An Adalah-NY representative tried to deliver a large heart-shaped valentine to the store which featured photos from Palestinian villages like Bil'in and Jayyous, where Leviev's companies are building Israeli settlements, and hand-written messages from protesters like "Stop the land theft," "Jews say no to apartheid," and "Where's the love, Lev?" Store staff refused to accept it.

For information, visit Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East on the Web at www.mideastjustice.org, or e-mail [email protected].

D.C. Social Forum organizing

WASHINGTON--How can the left work together? How can we act as one movement? How can we even communicate with each other when we are shut out of the media?

These questions were taken up at a strategy session for activists in the Washington, D.C., area on January 26. The event, held in conjunction with the Global Day of Action called by the World Social Forum, was titled "We Are the Power! Solidarity, Strategy and Celebration of the Metro D.C. Movement for Social Justice."

Attendees included more than 60 activists representing various causes such as immigrant rights, poverty, housing, labor and global justice--all with the express purpose of creating more unity among the D.C.-area left. D.C. Jobs with Justice, Empower D.C., Public Citizen, Save Our Schools, the D.C. Statehood-Green Party and the International Socialist Organization were just a few of the groups represented.

The first session involved a "fishbowl" forum of activists. Speakers focused on the corporate orientation of our politicians, the pervasiveness of racism and the capitalist profit system itself. Speakers from the floor brought up local issues, such as the impending closure of dozens of D.C. schools and raids against undocumented immigrants.

The group later split up into two working groups, action and education/media, which brainstormed about possible joint actions the D.C. left could take, such as holding a D.C. Day of Action several times a year. Afterward, the groups got back together and decided to establish a committee for a D.C. Solidarity Network that would plan joint actions. Several attendees volunteered to serve on this committee and set up a meeting time in two weeks.

All seemed to leave with a sense of optimism that this was just the beginning of the coming together of the D.C. left.