A group of about 40 students gathered Wednesday night in solidarity against what they say are “excessive charges” against Jason Vassell – a student involved in a racially-charged on-campus incident earlier this month.
“A hate crime was committed, hate speech was committed, and then an altercation broke out,” said Chris Tinson, an assistant resident director in the Southwest residential area. Tinson was one of the first to speak at the vigil and urged the group to “own the dialog around this issue.”
In an attempt to enlist the help and support of the University of Massachusetts community, the Committee for Justice for Jason Vassell held a vigil and candlelight walk in his honor.
The Feb. 3 incident took place outside Vassell’s MacKimmie dorm in the Southwest residential area. Around 5 a.m. police say John Bowes, 20, prompted a verbal confrontation with 23-year-old Vassell. The argument turned physical and resulted in Vassell allegedly stabbing Bowes and Jonathon Bosse, 19, of Milton, Mass.
Police say, “Bowes yelled racial slurs prior to the stabbing and was involved in the altercation, which resulted in Vassell suffering a broken nose.” Vassell was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a knife) and two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, according to police. Vassell, Bowes and Bosse were all treated at area hospitals following the incident. Bowes, who is not a UMass student, has been charged with disorderly conduct, civil rights violations with injury, and assault and battery to intimidate with bodily injury.
The vigil, held at the UMass Malcolm X Cultural Center, was used as a platform for discussion of “the excessive charges,” said Tracy Kelly, a 20-year-old UMass senior and executive secretary of the committee.
Malcolm Chu, Secretary of Diversity for the Student Government Association, expressed concerns he had when hearing about the confrontation.
“When I first started hearing about this issue I thought, it doesn’t matter about the facts of the case, this was one of our community members who was violated,” said Chu. “His space, person and mind was violated, we need to come around one of our community members and support him in whatever way we can.”
Instead of seeing the incident merely as a stabbing, Tinson argued that context needed to be built around the confrontation, framing Vassell’s story and putting the event into context for people.
The committee is holding a rally for Vassell on March 12, the day before his scheduled pre-trial hearing.