Tag Archives: Tyler Clementi

Tyler Clementi and the Anti-Bullying Panic

Cross-posted from Open Market

A jury has convicted Dharun Ravi of hate crimes in the Tyler Clementi case, which created a furor over bullying that led to legislation that endangers free speech on campus, and helped spawn a thriving “anti-bullying” industry that has enriched opportunistic consultants and self-proclaimed experts. Ravi surreptitiously captured on webcam his gay college roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man. Clementi committed suicide two days later. Initial media accounts falsely claimed that Ravi had filmed Clementi having sex, not just kissing, and sensationalized the case through factual exaggerations. Press reports also jumped to conclusions about the mental state of Ravi and Clementi, and falsely made it sound like there were gaps in existing law that somehow facilitated Ravi’s mistreatment of Clementi. (In reality, Rutgers, like most colleges, enforces rules against sexual and sexual orientation harassment, and New Jersey state law forbids invasions of privacy, and holds colleges liable for negligently failing to respond to anti-gay harassment committed by students, as a 2007 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court made clear.)

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Hateless Hate Crime at Rutgers?

dharun_ravi.jpgThe criminal trial of Dharun Ravi commanded national attention and focus on our controversial hate-crime laws. The issue was whether Ravi spied on his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, and whether he spied because of prejudice against homosexuals generally and against his gay roommate in particular. Ravi’s conviction last Friday on the most serious charge against him, “bias intimidation,” carries with it a possible sentence of ten years in prison. It was not for homicide. The jury certainly knew that Tyler had jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, a few days after 18-year-old Ravi used a web cam to observe his roommate’s tryst with a 28-year-old man in September, 2010.

Legally, however, Tyler’s suicide was irrelevant to the case. The jury should have considered only whether or not Ravi was guilty of a hate-crime: “bias intimidation.” Like 45 states and the federal government that have hate-crime laws to increase the penalties for other crimes, New Jersey has an Ethnic Intimidation Act. Nevada, for example, adds 25 percent to a prison sentence for felonies judged to be hate-crimes, but New Jersey’s hate-crime law tops the list for extra punitiveness. One problem is that hate-crimes, like beauty, are in the eyes of beholders. Did Ravi’s spying constitute “bias intimidation’?

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