We demand justice for Jason

January 7, 2009

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.--Eighty people crowded into the Northampton, Mass., Superior Court to show support for Jason Vassell at his pre-trial hearing on December 31.

In February 2008, Vassell was attacked by two white men as he sat in his University of Massachusetts (UMass) dorm room. The two men, shouting racial epithets, broke the dorm window. In a physical altercation that followed, they broke Vassell's nose and caused a concussion. Jason, acting in self-defense, allegedly used a knife to inflict minor injuries on the two men.

In a stunning example of the racism of the American "justice" system, Vassell was arrested and charged with two counts of assault with attempt to murder (these charges were later dropped) and two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon. In short, Vassell faces prison time for defending himself against a hate crime."

The Justice for Jason campaign, comprised of UMass students and community members, has kept the heat on the local district attorney who is prosecuting Jason. In November, 300 protesters marched on the office of Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, demanding that all charges be dropped.

The campaign's ability to pack the courtroom at 9 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm was an impressive show of strength and solidarity. On January 15, a judge will decide whether to hear a motion to dismiss all charges.

Jason's defense attorney is currently arguing that Jason was "selectively prosecuted" on the basis of race. According to campaign organizer Dan Keefe, "The new legal strategy of the defense, calling out the racism of the prosecution, has everything to do with the grassroots mobilization we've initiated. We've created the political space for such a defense. What happens in the courtroom is very connected to the movement and its ability to draw people into activity."

Jason's supporters have set February 3--the one-year anniversary of the racist attack on Jason--as a "National Day of Shame." In conjunction with a demonstration at UMass, the Justice for Jason Campaign is asking supporters around the country to call the district attorney's office that day to show their support for Jason.

One thing is clear--the movement will continue until the racist charges are dropped. Supporters can also go to the campaign Web site to sign a petition calling for all charges against Jason to be dismissed.

Further Reading

From the archives