Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Justice or Jena 6 All Over Again?


I don't usually blog twice in one day, but I just heard about some distressing incidents at my Alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Here's what I found on their website:

Man Charged With Civil Rights Violations Following Fight in UMass Amherst Residence Hall

Feb. 8, 2008

AMHERST, Mass. – A Hancock, N.H., man will be charged for his alleged involvement in a disturbance at MacKimmie residence hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that occurred on Sunday, Feb. 3, UMass police report. John Bowes, 20, is being summonsed to Eastern Hampshire District Court to face charges of disorderly conduct, civil rights violations with injury, and assault and battery to intimidate with bodily injury. Bowes, who is not a UMass Amherst student, is believed to have instigated a verbal confrontation with student Jason Vassell, 23, which resulted in Bowes being stabbed multiple times. Police say that Bowes yelled racial slurs prior to the stabbing and was involved in the altercation, which resulted in Vassell suffering a broken nose. Bowes is white, and Vassell is African American. The incident occurred about 5 a.m. Sunday in MacKimmie, which is part of the Southwest residential area. Bowes and Jonathan Bosse, 19, of Milton, Mass., were stabbed during the fight in the building’s lobby, police said. Vassell, a resident of MacKimmie, has been 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. Vassell and Bosse have been treated for their injuries and released from area hospitals. Bowes remained in fair condition at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Thursday, police said. The case remains under investigation. Officials are encouraging anyone with information related to the case to contact the UMass Amherst Police at 413/545-2121.

Apparently a few students held a vigil to draw attention to "hate crimes" on the UMASS campus and elsewhere:

With candles in hand, approximately 35 students braved the cold weather last night for a two-minute vigil to show their support for former University of Massachusetts student Jason Vassell, while raising awareness about recent hate crimes on campus. The vigil took place outside of MacKimmie residence hall in Southwest, the location of an incident on Feb. 3 involving Vassell, a 23-year-old African-American, and two Caucasian males not enrolled at the University. Numerous students cried during the two-minute moment of silence, while the cold air breezed and blew out some of the candles. Despite the difficult conditions outside, Student Government Association President Aaron Buford thought the evening went well and was a good start to improving race relations on campus. "It was really powerful to see people come out and show signs of solidarity and affirm the commitment that they have to seeing these issues be resolved," Buford said. "We're working at some really powerful and positive changes on campus." Read the whole article here.

We I was on campus back in the mid to late 90's we were also "working at some really powerful and positive changes on campus." Seems things didn't work out the way we had hoped. The question for me though is why the young man who was allegedly attacked is being charged with attempted murder while only one of his attackers is being charged and a much lesser charge at that? Is this justice or is it a local version of the Jena 6 episode?

"Oh, friends of God, be living examples of justice! So that by the Mercy of God, the world may see in your actions that you manifest the attributes of justice and mercy. Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 159)

Stay awake, stand up and speak up! Look into all things with a "searching eye".

"The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 156)