05 February 2009

Hate Crime or Excessive Force?

HT to Corine Claxton, who pointed out this story on Twitter.

Newspaper articles about criminal allegations are almost invariably frustrating to read. They never give me the information I want in order to decide what I think actually happened. Jason Vassell's case is a perfect example. Almost all the characterizations of the evidence seem to come from the defense counsel or people dedicated to an absolute belief that the defendant is not guilty. However, even assuming the evidence is as portrayed it leaves me with some serious questions.
Vassell's lawyer, David P. Hoose, has said that Bowes and Bosse instigated the confrontation by shouting racial epithets at Vassell from outside his room, breaking his window, and attacking him in the lobby.
What were the results?
Bosse and Bowes suffer[ed] from knife wounds, and Vassell’s nose was broken.

Vassell was charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder, two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon. Meanwhile, Bowes was charged with two hate crimes and disorderly conduct, and Bosse has not been charged at all.
The first article elaborates on the injuries somewhat (only information from prosecutor's office).
Vassell stabbed John C. Bowes and Jonathan Bosse several times each during a confrontation. The two men underwent emergency surgery as a result of their injuries.
This leaves me with all sorts of questions.

1) What started the event? Something's up. Did two white guys just pick a random black guy to harass? Possibly. However, breaking a window and then going into the lobby to pursue it further seems to indicate that something happened to stir emotions. There's something here we don't know about.

2) How did the knife come into play? Did Vassell pull it out of his pocket when he walked into the lobby and they bum-rushed him, or did he come out of his room ready to go with the knife in his hand?

3) Only one of the white guys charged? Did the other only stand around? Was the other guy just standing there or urging it on or trying to intervene to stop it?

4) How serious were the wounds? Are we talking slices (surgery=stitches) as Vassell waved the knife in front to keep the other two away or are we talking about multiple, major, once they were down, puncture wounds?

Honestly, I can't tell enough about the situation to know if the charges are justified. All I am sure of is that a fight took place and all parties left it injured. Everything else seems to be spin fed to the newspaper. It's just plain frustrating.

5 comments:

Joe Baby said...

1) Bowes and Bosse were visiting UMass from out of town. Neither of them attended the school. Late that night, after endless hours of drinking (Bowes is said by UMass Police Detective Kidwell to have consumed 10 beers, Bosse with a BAC over 0.2), the two show up outside the Mackimmie dorm on the UMass campus. A friend of theirs lived in the dorm and had told them hours before that they could crash at her place. They couldn't reach her by phone, and walked up to Jason's window seeking entrance to the building. When Jason appeared at the window however, their requests shifted from asking to enter the building to demanding that Jason come out and fight them. Eyewitnesses recall numerous racial epithets uttered by Bowes and Bosse at Jason - among them "Your whole family is slaves (sic)," "I'm gonna whip you," "You're a dirty nigger," "You're whole family is crap," and ample usage of the term "nigger." Jason grew agitated at such unfettered racist provocation, yelled back at them to leave his window, and pulled the window shade down. Not five seconds after this was Jason's window shattered. Nobody saw who did it or how (i.e. foot, hand, rock...)

Joe Baby said...

2) Having been subjected to incessant vicious racial hatred spewed from the drunken mouths of Bowes and Bosse, and having had his dorm room window shattered following the verbal assault, Jason was understandably enraged, frightened, and adrenalized. The knife was a pocketknife Jason used to help his father with electrical work. It wasn't a four-inch long hunting knife, but rather a slight blade with highly practical purposes as cutting wires. I think it's almost needless to say this: 2 large, violent, and extremely drunk men attempted to break into Jason's dorm building. He grabbed a knife in order to ably defend himself should a confrontation occur where Jason would be vulnerable to their physical attacks (which it did, in the Mackimmie dormitory lobby). The knife was only used by Jason after his nose was broken and an onslaught of punches from Bowes and Bosse gave him a concussion (a friend who Jason had called for help was also hit by Bosse, not severely injured).

Joe Baby said...

3) According to the statement of Jason's emergency-friend, Jonathan Bosse (the one not charged) did in fact punch him in the head during the melee out of which Jason received a broken nose and Bowes and Bosse received stab wounds. Bosse was also present outside Jason's dorm room window when multiple eyewitnesses reported hearing numerous racial slurs and violent threats yelled at Jason. Bowes was closest to Jason's window when the initial verbal assault took place, so that makes it somewhat questionable as to who was really responsible for breaking the window.

For a thorough analysis of Bosse's criminal behavior throughout this incident - as ignored by the District Attorney - please read the Motion to Dismiss on the www.justiceforjason.org website, particularly pages 36-52

Joe Baby said...

4) Both Bosse and Bowes suffered visits to the hospital, neither spent more than a couple days there, though. And from the police report and eyewitness reports of the incident, the stab wounds were not serious enough at the time inflicted that they would prevent Bowes and Bosse from beating their fists on an interior dorm door screaming at Jason to "Finish the fight." Both individuals seem to have successfully recovered from their injuries, as both are back at their respective colleges. Bowes is doing so well at this point that he will be attending a SCUBA instructor course in Baja California next month. This type of international excursion is allowed under the "administrative probation" asked for by Bowes' attorney at his sentencing, Friday March 13, 2009.

Joe Baby said...

That said, I see how frustrated someone with your expertise can get in a case like this from lackluster media coverage. I will say that several local reporters have done good jobs at translating the gist of the legalese into plainspeak so that readers across Western Mass (and the nation) can grasp what is happening with Jason's case. Still, a lot is lost in translation, and with whatever rules exist on limiting the evidence that can be detailed in the press, much of the crucial information is entirely omitted from public reporting.

Thanks for your post. Hopefully your readers will understand that Jason was the victim of a hate crime, that his actions were made entirely in self-defense, and that the local DA played the race card in bringing the charges that were brought.

One of the more unfortunate consequences of this whole debacle, aside from Jason having his life on hold for the past 14 months, is that people still can't see how deeply imbedded racism is in this society. Here we are, exploring the way in which the criminal justice system decides to dole out criminal justice, and a very clear picture emerges of how the black individual is treated with so much harshness, while the white men are either given a slap on the wrist, or are let off entirely. (And if you haven't yet learned of the EXTENSIVE histories of racial violence attributable to both Bowes and Bosse, I implore you to do more research. Bosse even assaulted a police officer of a different race since this incident took place in February 2008. For him to be seen as inculpable by the DA, whereas Jason is seen as a violent thug - this is where comparisons to Jim Crow era come into play.) Not only do we need to see Justice for Jason, we need to hold the criminal justice system accountable for oppressing black and brown people for so long while simultaneously privileging white people in a most unjust perpetuation of institutional racism.

Thank you.