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

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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.

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