The Ravi rethink

An 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers, Dharun Ravi bragged on Twitter about using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate and his male date, inviting friends to watch a second date. In a New Yorker story, Ravi comes across as immature, attention-seeking jerk, but not a homophobe. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, joked with a friend about a “five sec peep,” unplugged Ravi’s computer to prevent spying and asked to switch rooms. Then he committed suicide.

Ravi now faces 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India. A New Jersey jury convicted him of invasion of privacy and “bias intimidation,” a hate crime. That’s prompted a mass rethink. Ten years?

Make the Punishment Fit the Cyber-Crime writes Emily Bazelon in a New York Times op-ed.

According to New Jersey’s civil rights law, you are subject to a much higher penalty if the jury finds that you committed one of a broad range of underlying offenses for the purpose of targeting someone because of his race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

The idea of shielding vulnerable groups is well intentioned. But with the nation on high alert over bullying — especially when it intersects with computer technology and the Internet — these civil rights statutes are being stretched to go after teenagers who acted meanly, but not violently. This isn’t what civil rights laws should be for.

It was a “hateless hate crime,” writes Jacob Sullum in Reason. “Before the trial the prosecutors offered him a deal that involved no jail time and a chance to avoid deportation, which suggests even they do not believe he should be punished as severely as a violent felon.”

I doubt the verdict will stand, if only because the defense wasn’t allowed to see Clementi’s suicide notes, which were judged “irrelevant.”  Ravi wasn’t charged with causing the suicide, but it was very relevant to the decision to charge him with a hate crime, not just invasion of privacy.

Teens need to know that cyberbullying is a crime, counters Gregg Weinlein, a retired teacher, in an Ed Week commentary.

Too often, teens flip off the word “bully” as childish, knowing that assailants today are much more vicious than the playground bullies of the previous century. Teenagers today must fend off the silent assassins of the digital age, who operate with phones and tablets and plant emotional land mines in social-networking sites. The harassment and text assaults perpetrated by some teenagers should have a criminal connotation if we are to see a shift in how older students perceive and understand this abusive behavior.

In this case, “criminal connotation” means prison and deportation.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Weinlein’s stinking cheese of an essay, ridden with the worms of metaphor, drips the over-earnest oils of self-righteousness and self-parody alike across its readers’ fingers.

    • I’ll give you this: Inside of a paragraph you seem to have established yourself as an authority on writing that is “ridden with the worms of metaphor, [and] drips the over-earnest oils of self-righteousness and self-parody alike”. 😉

  2. L. C. Burgundy says:

    I’ve never understood why the Ravi/Clementi incident is ever brought up in the context of “cyberbullying”, for the simple fact that there is no sign there was any expressed intimidation or hostility whatsoever, or that the prosecuted incident had anything at all to do with why Clementi committed suicide. There’s also the little fact that they were basically adults, not tweens or teens. It’s a story of alienated college roommates and some creeper spying, not “bullying” or “cyberbullying.”

  3. 1) I think that most people’s evaluation of bad activities in school settings is usually way off.

    When it happens in school, we treate felonies — even VIOLENT felonies — like…well, it’s hard to find the metaphor. We usually treat violent physically assault like it is just teasing.

    If someone committs a crime, it should be treated like a crime. If someone assaults someone else, it should be treated like a crime, and done so in the criminal justice system. If a juvenile, put them through the juvenvile justice system. But treat crimes like crimes. This would teach children — the responsibility of the schools — and prepare them for the adult world.

    When it comes to legal adults — which both Ravi and Clementi were — treat crimes like crimes.

    In this case, Ravi was treated like a criminal, and people don’t get it because we are not accustomed to treating crimes by students at school as though they are crimes.

    2) Imagine someone recording your private activities in your bathroom or bedroom and sharing the recordings with others. Imagine someone broadcasting your private consentual sexual acts to others withouot your consent. What kind of legal pentalty would be appropriate?

    Now imagine that that person did so, calling your acts gross or in some way casting moral condemnation on them because of the nature of your partner.

    3) If you don’t like the existance of bias-crime statutes, make that the issue. But don’t like behind the idea that these are “hate crime’ statutes. It’s called “bias.” Yes, let the facts get in in the way of your simplistic argument, and in the way of others’ simplistic arguments.

    4) If you don’t like the nature of our sentencing system, then address that. Don’t just object to the one instance you happened to pay attention to. Look at the system and decide whether there is a problem there. The Supreme Court just addresed this issue YESTERDAY.

    5) Plea bargains are not the same thing as sentences that follow trials. Plea bargains represent a an evalaution of the nature of the crime, but they are ALSO informed by the risk of going to trial. The fact that the prosecutors offered so short a sentence could be a reflection fo their understanding of the power of my first point as much as their abhorance of the crime (or lack thereof). A case that is harder or less likely to win — even if fully believed by the prosecutor and a horrible crime — will get a shorter sentence offered. You don’t know whether the prosecutors believe Ravi deserves years in jail or not. You just don’t.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Why should a college student be expected to be OK with someone having sex in his room? He didn’t get to choose his roommate, and he’s basically told he has to put up with this gross violation of his personal space. Plus, given that the roommate’s boy friend was a creepy older guy, maybe he felt the need to film for security.

    The university should be help liable for refusing to respond to requests to change rooms. Also, why wasn’t there a rule about non-students in student rooms, or about guests w/o roommate permission?

    If a girl had been bringing a creepy older man into her female roommate’s room, would the university have treated this differently? Why are guys supposed to be ok with this?

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    I doubt the verdict will stand, if only because the defense wasn’t allowed to see Clementi’s suicide notes, which were judged “irrelevant.” Ravi wasn’t charged with causing the suicide, but it was very relevant to the decision to charge him with a hate crime, not just invasion of privacy.

    The verdict might not stand, but the guy who filmed Erin Andrews (naked/undressing but alone) *is* serving 30 months. The charges might have been different, of course …

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    At worst, this clown is a sick turd, who performed a sick practical joke. But this is prosecution to please the mob–see Nifong and Pilate–who finally GOT A HOMOPHOBE.
    It would not be a stretch from this to see outing someone who subsequently commits suicide be criminalized. Then what would dem dirty tricks artists do when they found a gay or lesbian in or related to somebody in the republican party?