Monthly Archives: March 2008

Jeff, Spike & Shabazz for 40 Acres & a Mule!

uconnference-3.jpgUConn IAAS Director, Jeffrey Ogbar, Filmmaker Spike Lee, and Du Bois Department Chair, Amilcar Shabazz, at 3.29.08 postconference dinner

Lee was the Closing Keynote speaker for UConn’s national conference on the Harlem Renaissance. The conference explored the major ideas, people, and legacies of the period through a broad-based, interdisciplinary program that included scholars, artists, and cultural workers from across the US and beyond.


Several Du Bois Department Ph.D. students presented papers as well as Prof. Shabazz.

Allia Matta, Jason Hendrickson, McKinley Melton, and Zahra Caldwell presented on Saturday.



J4J News Flash!

Ex-UMass student facing lesser assault charge

by The Republican Newsroom
Thursday March 27, 2008, 3:20 PM


NORTHAMPTON – A former University of Massachusetts student accused of stabbing two men who yelled racial slurs at him has been indicted on a lesser charge than he originally faced.

Jason W. Vassell, 23, of Boston, a senior biology major who withdrew from UMass-Amherst after the Feb. 3 incident, was indicted this week by a Hampshire Superior Court grand jury on two counts of aggravated assault by means of a dangerous weapon. No arraignment date has been scheduled.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Frank E. Flannery, who is handling the case, was not available for comment this afternoon about why there was no indictment on charges Vassell faced in Eastern Hampshire District Court of armed
assault with intent to murder. Vassell has pleaded innocent to those charges.

Vassell’s case has drawn the attention in the UMass community and a rally and a vigil were held in support of him and in opposition to hate crimes. Vassell is black and the two other men involved are white. Vassell’s supporters have
created a group called “Justice for Jason.”

Defense lawyer David P. Hoose has said the two men taunted Vassell and he showed them a knife and told them to leave. Hoose has suggested that Vassell acted in self defense.

John C. Bowes, 20, of Hancock, N. H., is accused of punching Vassell and breaking his nose. Bowes pleaded innocent to civil rights and other charges in Eastern Hampshire District Court, but was not indicted in Superior Court. The
man with Bowes, Jonathan Bosse, 19, of Milton, was not charged.

Court documents state that after Vassell was punched, he stabbed Bosse five times, Bowes four times. All three were treated at areas hospitals.

Supporters have created a Web site,, which provides details of the incident and information about how Vassell volunteered at an art program as a teenager, worked as a tutor at Bunker Hill Community College which he attended before UMass and most recently worked with disabled adult men and volunteered as a mentor at a local middle school.

From Jason V to Josef K

“Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning” (1). from The Trial, by Franz Kafka (1925)


Chapter 278: Section 8A.
Killing or injuring a person unlawfully in a dwelling; defense

In the prosecution of a person who is an occupant of a dwelling charged with killing or injuring one who was unlawfully in said dwelling, it shall be a defense that the occupant was in his dwelling at the time of the offense and that he acted in the reasonable belief that the person unlawfully in said dwelling was about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon said occupant or upon another person lawfully in said dwelling, and that said occupant used reasonable means to defend himself or such other person lawfully in said dwelling. There shall be no duty on said occupant to retreat from such person unlawfully in said dwelling.

Jason’s prevaricator is not a someone, but a something: a video camera. Actually, it is not a liar at all. It shows to us what it sees and we make the lie or see the truth.

We do not see a young man threatened or provoked or in danger; instead we see a threat, a provocateur, a danger and we arrest him and charge him with most severe crime possible. We’d prefer that he’d stay in his room or fled to safety or wait until the men who went from his window to the entrance of his dwelling got to him and beat him and battered him until he was dead. Then we might find a little sympathy. Even then some would not. A dead, dark-skinned man is just as pathetic to a living one to the one who sees race and hates the black man. The business of the University would go on. The window to his room would be repaired. The dorm cleaned up. Someone again would be rented the space. A man would be dead, but things would go on as they must.

We detest violence. We wish Super Bowl Sunday would have ended and everyone gone to bed and no one would have had the bad taste to disturb Jason and his friends’ peace. We wish the intruders would have gone their merry way and that John Bowes, 20, of Hancock, N.H., and Jonathan Bosse, 19, of Milton, would have not targeted Jason because of his being black. Their attempt to cause fear and intimidation in non-racist people is something we detest. The hate crime we suspect that they perpetrated through physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse and insults is the wrong that was committed here on February 3, 2008. The prosecutors would have us believe that the right response to such a crime is to cower and to await rescue from the police. Is the picture of Jason they will try to paint that he was a macho menace who responded to a minor bit of bad behavior with awful, deadly force? Go and read your Kafka…

“You should have stayed in your room! Didn’t Franz tell you?” “And what is it you want, then?” said K., looking back and forth between this new acquaintance and the one named Franz, who had remained in the doorway. Through the open window he noticed the old woman again, who had come close to the window opposite so that she could continue to see everything. She was showing an inquisitiveness that really made it seem like she was going senile. “I want to see Mrs. Grubach … ,” said K., making a movement as if tearing himself away from the two men – even though they were standing well away from him – and wanted to go. “No,” said the man at the window, who threw his book down on a coffee table and stood up. “You can’t go away when you’re under arrest.”

The Prosecutors are pushing The Process. They see this case in black and white. How they will make the victims of their case (Bowes and Bosse) the innocent, guiltless party who are stabbed by a man with a broken nose (caused by their case’s “victims”) is where we go from Jason V to Josef K.

I am really disturbed by the madness of all this. I do not like that Jason had a knife and that Bowes and Bosse got cut by it. I would like it whole lot less, however, had Jason not defended himself and instead let Bowes and Bosse maim, paralyze, or kill him. It is easy for any of us not there to wish for myriad other outcomes. It is easy for us to say why did not Jason hide under his bed until UMPD arrived on the scene and protected him from harm. It can also be asked why did not Bowes and Bosse become decent human beings and refrain from their criminal ways and go home before entering Jason’s dwelling and breaking his nose? What I see is that a conflict ensued between two young men (being hateful racists) against one and the outnumbered man using a knife to defend himself from his attackers. The Process-cutors say they see something different and they are dealing with the “facts.” What facts? The word of a video camera. When a video camera showed the LAPD giving Rodney King an unmerciful beating a jury in Simi Valley said it was not so and declared the officers innocent of any wrongdoing. That trial was in 1992 and it set off some of the worst violence in U.S. history. What have we learned?

Yes Jason has many lessons to learn from this. He has suffered tremendously and is suffering now with a felony prosecution hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. Above all I believe that Jason knows better than anyone the wretchedness of the way of the violent and the hateful. I would imagine he would like to stay as far away from the likes of Bowes and Bosse as he can for the rest of his life. While we cannot run from the Bowes and Bosses of the world, anymore than we can evade the Seung-Hui Chos or the Steven Kazmierczaks, we must get the people we pay and empower to deal with criminals to do their jobs–the police. Protecting ourselves by any means necessary is bottom line, but in our Kafkaesque world we had better find a way to make our law enforcement and criminal justice systems work for us whenever we can, otherwise more of us, the innocent and the non-violent, may end up like Josef K and Jason V. The Umass Amherst community is smarter and better than that, right?

The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Arts and Letters

A National Conference, March 27-29, 2008
Keynote speaker: Mr. Spike Lee
Other confirmed speakers: Amiri Baraka and Lucy Hurston

The Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut announces a national conference. The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most significant eras of artistic expression of the twentieth century U.S. Following World War I, the explosion of cultural work among African Americans reflected rich intellectual and political expression with visual artists, musicians, literati, and others. The conference will explore the major ideas, people, and legacies of this period. The conference will bring together a broad-based, interdisciplinary program that includes scholars, artists, activists, and cultural workers from across the United States and abroad.

I will present at this conference on Saturday March 29th, 9:30 AM – 10:45 AM, in the session below:

10. The Black Press and the New Negro

Daniel Simmons, University of Connecticut, Chair

Amilcar Shabazz, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “The Miseducation of the
New Negro”

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, Youngstown State University, “Fay M. Jackson and
FLASH Magazine: The Contribution of a Pioneering Los Angeles Journalist to the
New Negro Movement”

Evelyn Lockett-Le Touze, University of Montreal and University Paris I Pantheon-
Sorbonne, “Black Press and France after World War I: A Taste of Equality and
Recognition for Black Americans”


“The Miseducation of the New Negro”

This paper offers a theoretical perspective on the “New Negro” by exploring major ideas, people, and legacies of this period. The Harlem Renaissance follows not only the end of World War I, but also the death of Booker T. Washington and the beginning of the end of the hegemony of his ideas on the proper education of Negroes as it were. My study of the educational experiences and ideas of four key figures associated with the Harlem Renaissance in relation to the industrial versus liberal arts education dichotomy and the self-negation mentality framework Carter G. Woodson posited and popularized in his classic work The Miseducation of the Negro aims at interrogating what precisely is “new” in the cultural and aesthetic production of the HR Era against the very “old” place already fixed for African Americans within the U.S. social and economic order.

Enough blogging…time to finish writing my presentation. /az

CBS 3 Springfield/Pioneer Valley/Western MA story

Hundreds Rally to Support “J4J”

Story Published: Mar 12, 2008 at 8:06 PM EDT

By Matt DeLucia

Click here to Watch the Story

Students at UMass rallied Wednesday to support one of their own as he prepares to face a judge this week.

Hundreds of UMass-Amherst students braved the afternoon rain to come out and rally support for Jason Vassell, who was involved in a race-related incident on campus. On February 3, Vassell was arrested after allegedly stabbing two people. He is charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder and two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

This came after reports that two Caucasian individuals, who are not UMass students, smashed the dorm room window of Vassell, who is African-American. They reportedly yelled racial slurs to Vassell inside. Police later arrested Vassell for attempted murder. Many students say it was in self-defense and he should be protected.

“These are my peers. And if they can’t be safe, then I can’t feel safe,” said Emily Bloch, a UMass freshman.

Professor Zane Barlow Coleman taught Vassell in several classes and spoke very highly of him. She said she talked with him just last night.

“He’s very upset at his situation,” said Coleman. “He misses UMass. He misses his academic studies. He misses his friends, his community.”

Tracy Kelley, Vassell’s partner and the Executive Secretary of the Committee for Justice for Jason Vassell said she has been by his side since the very beginning.

“Jason is completely opposite of that stereotype [of] a stabber or attacker, and after I emotionally dealt with things, I said we need to organize,” Kelley said.

Like many institutions, UMass has had several incidents of hate crimes. But now, students at the Amherst campus are moving for change; marching across campus, and carrying flowers. Each one symbolizes 30 hate crime victims in America.

“We need to speak up about these injustices,” said Kelley. “This can’t just be swept under the rug. He can’t go to jail for 90 days without bail. People need to mobilize because it’s everybody’s issue.”

Only one of those intruders, John Bowes, was later arrested and charged with two hate crimes and disorderly conduct. The other, Jonathan Bosse, has not yet been charged. Vassell is currently under house arrest. He is scheduled to appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court for a pre-trial hearing Friday, March 14.

His supporters vow to make an appearance and hope the charges will either be reduced or dropped altogether.