The Dharun Ravi Verdict:
Bias Crimes and the Changing Idea of Privacy

The practical legal effect of this verdict is the delegitimization of a boys-will-be-boys defense. Mr. Ravi's attorney tried to portray his client as a silly kid engaging in adolescent hijinx no more serious than flinging spit balls. It just got out of hand. The jury rejected that fanciful notion: the common back-and-forth among adolescents does not usually involve systematic and premeditated spying. The verdict also clarified what it means to be motivated by antigay bias. The underlying question posed to the jury was whether Mr. Ravi would have done what he did had his roommate been straight and making out with a woman. The defense tried to argue, yes, he would have: he only turned on the cam to keep an eye on his belongings given the presence of an older "homeless-looking" person who may take things. But, that could not explain why he focused the cam on Tyler's bed, why he invited someone to watch the stream, and texted a friend about Tyler's sexual behavior, not the profile of his paramour. And, Mr. Ravi's guilt also will oblige universities to add new information to their roommate counseling programs, and monitor, report, and investigate roommate-on-roommate privacy issues.

TylerBut, this verdict gives me great pause, and not only because it means one life is lost and another is ruined. The system is broken and the decision to throw Mr. Ravi in jail fixes nothing: we have put our faith in the criminal law when that sword is double-edged, and when we still have no idea what it means to be private in an online world. Instead of addressing those pressing issues, pundits have declared that justice has been done, ignoring the society's moral bankruptcy that created this tragedy.

Mr. Ravi was convicted of invading Tyler's privacy. In New Jersey, that means "collect[ing] or view[ing] images depicting nudity of sexual contact involving another individual without that person's consent." It is a separate crime to distribute those images or transmit them across some medium. On the facts presented to the jury, Mr. Ravi did just that, and it's hard to argue otherwise. But, these privacy statutes, and the way many of my colleagues think about privacy, are steeped in Twentieth Century conceptions of personal space. In a world where teenagers see no difference between their physical and digital selves, where Tyler volunteered his sexual orientation online, and where entire lives are up on YouTube for public consumption, personal privacy may mean something different than it did for Justice Brandeis and Justice Brennan, liberal lions who believed that the "right to be let alone" was among the most important rights in our legal tradition.

For this generation, Dharun's behavior seems innocuous, almost routine. It shouldnt be. Sexual conduct is the most private of private actions. Yet, our "culture of me" has failed to teach Dharun's generation the lesson that certain things do not belong out in the open, should not be shared, and should be respected as personal. In this way, we have criminalized something that many young people feel is just a part of life; after all, sex tapes make people famous these days.

The incomparable Emily Bazelon, who is writing a book about cyberbullying, argued in a recent New York Times Op-Ed that Mr. Ravi's guilty verdict represents an expansion of hate crime laws beyond their drafters' intent. These statutes, Ms. Bazelon states, "are being stretched to go after teenagers who acted meanly, but not violently. This isn’t what civil rights laws should be for." She indicts inartful drafting — the writers of these laws made them too broad — not the prosecutors using the laws given to them. And, she is exactly right. Assuming the legitimacy of hate crime laws, in general, expanding them to cover everything from insensitivity to burning a cross in a black person's yard not only delegitimizes the law, but challenges the social value of statutes aimed at protecting traditionally harassed groups.

I would go one step further. Politicians have a habit of riding waves of dissatisfaction, writing up a law with a fancy name, and affirming their faith in the power of the state to solve social problems. Sometimes, they do a great job (Title IX, the Voting Rights Act, the Social Security Act, are just some of the many examples). But, sometimes, a toothless statute is passed or political action is taken to absolve us of responsibility for the culture that our other laws have created. That is what has happened here.

Charging, let alone convicting, someone of a crime is a powerful statement of social condemnation. It says that what you did is bad enough that money damages (the domain of tort law) aren't enough to wash away your sins. And so it is only natural that we look to the Draconian arm of the criminal law in times of great tragedy and loss of life. Tyler's death is such an unspeakable shame that money damages from some wrongful death claim seem unseemly or insufficient. We want to hold someone responsible. But, Mr. Ravi is only the easiest target. The real culprit is a legal framework so morally bankrupt that we pass laws and decide cases that eliminate all notions of responsibility for hate speech online in the name of "freedom" or "innovation," we justify the desecration of funerals with vile hate speech on the ground of the "marketplace of ideas," and we raise the right to speak over the responsibility of the speaker. This regime expresses various dangerous values, from the lawlessness of the Internet to the demotion of civic virtue in our society, and both are plaguing our political culture and our youth.

If Mr. Ravi's guilty verdict further ups the ante on the privacy debate and signals the overbreadth of hate crime laws, it also reflects our tendency to punish ex ante rather than change the cultural and social norms that allowed this tragedy to happen in the first place.

***

Ari Ezra Waldman is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. After practicing in New York for five years and clerking at a federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., Ari is now on the faculty at California Western School of Law in San Diego, California. His research focuses on gay rights and the First Amendment. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.

Comments

  1. ShawntheSheep says

    I certainly have to take issue with your claim that this generation sees streaming a sexual encounter online without the participants’ consent as not a big deal. Certainly, perceptions of privacy have changed, but I think the overwhelming majority of people recognize that it’s wrong to invade someone’s privacy in such a manner.

    I think you are cutting Mr. Ravi a bit too much slack. I am certainly concerned about the severity of the sentence for Mr. Ravi. It seems he is being scapegoated for our failure as a society to protect someone like Tyler Clementi. It seems Mr. Ravi is being punished more harshly because Tyler committed suicide, an act that it seems unlikely Mr. Ravi’s actions caused. As a society, it’s easier to scapegoat Mr. Ravi than to look at the more complicated failings that led to Mr. Clementi’s tragic end.

  2. PixelWizard says

    I follow Mr. Waldmann’s commentary in this blog and have to say this one’s out of character: I can’t for the life of me figure what his point is.

    This collection of verbiage is what gives lawyers their bad name.

    So sorry – care to rewrite it so mere mortals can follow?

  3. Zlick says

    I don’t think the law is overbroad at all. At least not the charges that Mr. Ravi was convicted of. I feel those charges reflected a proper and decent law, and that the jury acted quite properly in finding him guilty of those and innocent of others.

    Further, I don’t believe we should throw out our notions of privacy based on the facebookization of the world. Kids today may have a different take on privacy than their parents, but if it takes the force of criminal law to remind them where the boundaries of common decency and civil behavior really lie, then so be it.

    I don’t take pleasure in the ruination of Mr. Ravi. But what he did is far beyond what the “kids today” excuse covers. If the lesson is that you can be as open about your own life as you please, but there are drastic consequences for deciding that for others – then that’s a lesson this generation of young adults should take to heart as they make their way in the modern world.

  4. Clif3012 says

    @Shawnthesheep, don’t forget that the biggest grossing teen movie of all time had a webcam streamed sex scene as its hilarious climax. Admittedly American Pie pre-dates these kids, but there is certainly a very different idea of privacy. It wouldn’t surprise me sadly for a teenager to think that by posting sexual questions on Just Us Boys, another teen’s sex life is open territory.

    I tend to go with the New Yorker article on Ravi. I’m not convinced he was truly homophobic, but was instead hit by a juvenile jealousy that cocky, outgoing Ravi was still a virgin while his shy, introverted gay roomie was hooking up with older lovers.

  5. Wendel says

    “personal privacy may mean something different than it did for Justice Brandeis and Justice Brennan, liberal lions who believed that the “right to be let alone” was among the most important rights in our legal tradition.”

    This is absurd.

    If people want to take nude photos of themselves and post them online, etc… that is their choice.

    Telling everyone on twitter they can watch your roomate having sex by logging onto his webcam feed is something else entirely.

    Kids today don’t go around thinking that because its the digital age it is okay to have a secret video camera watching people go to the bathroom or take a shower.

  6. says

    @pixel: thank you for your comment. all lack of clarity is, of course, my fault. i normally strive to make everything accessible. i am basically arguing that too often, guilty verdicts like this can serve to absolve us as a society of the moral responsibility for creating the factors that made this tragedy happen in the first place.

  7. scotsyank says

    This case, and all of the previous comments, make me glad that I left the divided, racist, and homophobic country in which I was born. I’m not sure what the USA stands for anymore. But I’m godamned sure that I left it 20 years ago.

  8. says

    I disagree that Ravi was not responsible for Tyler’s death. Ravi was not directly responsible but indirectly he was and I think the jury saw that. We all see life as a good thing but when life becomes so overwhelming there are people who see death as the only way out. Tyler Clementi surely felt his life had lost value and that he had no future. That was a direct result of the degradation, belittlement, humiliation and homophobia heaved on his shoulders by Ravi.

    Losing control, feeling helpless, finding no purpose to your life was clearly demonstrated by Jason Russell last week when his own mental state became so pressured his mind snapped. Instead of suicide, thank goodness, he went bonkers running naked and slapping the world (sidewalk).

    I firmly believe that Tyler would be here today, alive and hopefully in love with his boyfriend. Life does get better but Ravi gave made sure his particular life was not worth living. Jumping off a bridge was, in his 20-something mind, his only option.

  9. Mark says

    I agree with Ari’s point on the danger of this verdict absolving society as a whole of responsibility–in effect, using Ravi as a scapegoat. But there’s also been a lot of commentary (including, I would submit, Bazelon’s NYT op-ed though not her more nuanced columns on the case in Slate) that seems to absolve Ravi of responsibility for his actions.

    Ravi’s behavior wasn’t in any way typical of college students (at least that I have encountered during my time as a professor), and the decisions that he made–to set up the spying equipment, to advertise it, to alter his tweets–were his and his alone. Yet he never seemed to believe he did anything wrong–as seen in his rejection of the plea bargain and in his attorney’s trial tactic of attempting to play to (absent, fortunately) homophobic sentiments among the jury.

    He invaded his roommate’s privacy in a particularly cruel way, and he did so with malevolent intent. Since both Clementi’s parents and his other victim have said they don’t want him to get a long sentence, my guess is he likely will receive only a short prison term, but I don’t see anything wrong, either legally or morally, with such an outcome.

  10. Zlick says

    I’m not sure I’m grasping what moral bankruptcy Ari is getting at. Is it the moral bankruptcy of privacy erosion? (Boy, the story this week about the NSA’s huge database of everything every American has ever done is far beyond anything the facebook generation could even conceive of.) So, to me, the internet age revisions of privacy notions are really pretty tame and, as I said previously, I think the important boundaries remain in place and no amount of modern revision has touched them.

    Or is it the moral bankruptcy of attitudes towards gays? The article doesn’t seem to be addressing that, but the only moral bankruptcy I see in place that underlies the tragedy of this case is the rampant homophobia expressed by Ravi’s twitter followers. To my mind, however, the moral bankruptcy underlying Ravi’s behavior was that of the 1% mentality. In any event, he was portrayed in the New Yorker article as a huge class-conscious snob and not rampantly homophobic. (In this area, I think the jury got the bias counts exactly right).

    There’s lots of moral bankruptcy to go around here, but I think changing privacy standards are the least of it.

  11. Jeff NYC says

    Thanks, as always, for your commentary, Ari. It clarified some of what I’d been thinking.

    These verdicts tend to make people feel like the problem is over, much like public executions used to do.

  12. Markt says

    Privacy boundaries have changed and our laws must as well.
    If Tyler Clementi committed suicide because he couldn’t get a room change, then I understand. A semester with that ass hole could seem like 10 years in prison. But if it was merely because his privacy was invaded, then he was even more old fashioned than me.
    We cannot turn back the clock on changing notions of privacy anymore than we can turn back gay rights. It’s out of the box now. I think a lot of people Ravi’s age think of this as too minor a transgression for 10 years in prison.

  13. Gus says

    Was this written by a lawyer? It comes as news to me that the criminal prosecution of an individual somehow imposes legal obligations on universities. Somehow, the rest of the world missed that as well. So glad that we have Ari Waldman of a 4th tier law school to enlighten us.

    In fact, this case imposes no obligation on any university. Rutgers acted reasonably in this case, responding quickly to Clementi’s complaint and even offering him alternate living space immediately. I believe that his parents are not pursuing any civil action against the university. So what rubbish is Waldman spewing?

    Ari, if you want to make yourself useful, why don’t you discuss how a group of homophobic bullies aided and abetted Ravi and suffered no consequences. One of Ravi’s friends helped him set up the cam. The despicable Michelle Huang of Cornell urged him to broadcast Clementi and even stoked his homophobia by texting about “gross” Asian lesbians. A group of Rutgers students persuaded Molly Wei to activate the cam a second time. And a larger group of students were to form Ravi’s “viewing party”. At no time did they do a thing to stop this. It is clear from Clementi’s JustUsBoys posts and other messages that he was more unnerved by the collusion of these other students than he was about the camming itself. Yet not one of these other students has been received so much as a mild reprimand from the university. How about posting about that, delicate genius?

  14. Jay says

    There was no decision to put Ravi in jail. He rejected a plea deal that would have avoided jail. Instead, he (or his attorney) decided to play a new version of the old “homosexual panic” defense. They argued that he was a naive young man who had never seen two men kiss before and that affected his otherwise good judgment. Ravi is responsible for humiliating a young man who did nothing to him. He refused to accept responsibility for his actions. He now deserves to be sent to jail. I hope that his sentence will be closer to one-year than to ten, but he definitely deserves jail time and deportation.

  15. BobN says

    One test for a case like this is whether it would have been prosecuted under circumstances that did not lead (however unprovably, however indirectly) to a death. The obvious answer is that there would have been no prosecution at all.

    Justice isn’t served when people look for a scapegoat.

  16. says

    @gus: you are free to disagree vehemently with me, but you demean us all by resorting to personal attacks on my credibility and motives. obviously, a guilty verdict does not include direct requirements on a university. but you can be sure that a guilty verdict in this case is indirectly indicating to schools that if they do nothing about known similar cases, they can be held civilly liable for failure to act. and, if you dont trust me on that point, tenured professors at uc berkeley and fordham said the exact same thing in comments to the San Francisco Chronicle and Star Ledger, respectively. but again, please keep your comments substantive and respectful, lest you lose all credibility.

  17. Jay says

    The positive thing about this conviction is that, while Ravi and his attorneys bet the store on having a homophobic jury that could be convinced that there was nothing wrong with humiliating a gay man, the jury actually looked at the law and did the right thing. We should be grateful for that. I think this means that at least in some states where there are good prosecutors, the homosexual panic defense will no longer work.

  18. Markt says

    Mr. Ehrenstein until he’s sentenced he could get the maximum which is 10 years (per a newspaper article). There are crazy judges out there who love throwing the book at someone they deem the “bad guy.” Have you never watched Judge Judy? She was a real judge with sentencing power here in NYC.
    Ari you end by lamenting that the balancing tests have gone awry. This is a symptom of changing times. Something is lost and something is gained – look at the Arab Spring, wikileaks, Shades of Gray. It will take some time for society and our laws to catch up. I catch a whiff of the reactionary in your lament and on that count you should be careful.

  19. says

    @davidehrenstein: i think you are right. there is almost no chance mr ravi will get the ten years. sentence appropriateness (whatever the sentence ends up being) is another topic to discuss, and worth discussion. i was more focused on the guilty verdict as a statement of social condemnation and the effects/impact thereof.

  20. Zlick says

    I agree with BOBN about the selective enforcement. I’ve said previously I think the laws Ravi was charged with having broken are just, but choosing to enforce them only when there’s public outcry or when death results as opposed to merely the results the laws are about – then that is morally reprehensible in and of itself. I’m afraid I agree it’s unlikely Ravi would have been tried and convicted if Tyler Clementi had not committed suicide.

    I don’t think that absolves Ravi. It’s a shortcoming of our society. But, alas, an understandable one given human nature.

  21. Wes says

    I’m not going to say whether I think his crime deserves X amount of time in prison, but I will say when they refused to settle for the community service somehow thinking that was just ‘too much’, any sympathy went out the door.

  22. Kelly in Atlantic City says

    I believe that Dharun knew “certain things do not belong out in the open, should not be shared, and should be respected as personal”. He just did it anyway. He did it to be mean. I don’t blame our “culture of me”. I blame a bad kid.

  23. Erich says

    Why as a society are we so eager to throw people in jail and toss the key? What he did was reprehensible, but with counseling and awareness classes, he is more likely to understand what he did. We put more people in jail than any other country in the world, and it’s not fixing a thing.

  24. mammmab says

    David Ehrenstein, you are the kind of person that makes reading comment sections almost impossible, and utterly depressing.

    Have you ever doubted your brilliance, even for a second? Asked an honest question with a view to getting an honest answer? Engaged in civil discussion? Wondered if there was anything short of utter stupidity leading someone to disagree with you? Regretted a dismissive, disdainful, nasty, and/or bitter thing you’ve written?

    If so, when? And why did you stop?

  25. Craig says

    Can’t thank you enough, Mr. Walderman, for the continued outstanding insight you provide on these important legal cases. No one out there is providing the kind of wonder, in-depth analysis that you do. Extremely well said, and spot on.

  26. Davelandia says

    Gawd I get so sick of the infighting here.

    My humble opinion – the jury did the right thing, and he deserves what he gets. He clearly invaded someone’s privacy, he clearly made a big deal about it because that person was gay (I firmly believe had his roommate been straight this would not have happened and he would not have given it a second thought), and he clearly tried to cover up his tracks. He knew exactly what he was doing. Is he necessarily homophobic? Depends on your definition of such. Does he hate homosexuals? Again, depends on your definition of such. Is he a stupid asshat? Yes – but that doesn’t excuse you from breaking the law. Tyler clearly had issues. Whether or not what Ravi did contributed to his death – probably not, at least in my opinion, but its a moot point because that issue wasn’t on trial here. In terms of the interpretation of the law – which is what the jury is supposed to focus on without emotion – Ravi got what he deserved. I’m just surprised the jury actually did what it was supposed to – but I have to credit the judge in this case – he was really, really detailed, and really specific with his instruction to the jury.

  27. JohnAGJ says

    @bobn: You might be right, but I do think that the facts of the case justify the invasion of privacy conviction regardless of Clementi’s suicide. It’s the bias convictions that trouble me. The evidence was very slim and the main victim was deceased. I beleive there was ample room for reasonable doubt. The jury of course felt differently and now I guess it’s up the appeals court to decide if they got it right or not.

  28. Jack says

    Ari, I’m a fan, but this column is unreadable, as, too, your elaboration @pixel: “i am basically arguing that too often, guilty verdicts like this can serve to absolve us as a society of the moral responsibility for creating the factors that made this tragedy happen in the first place.”

  29. Gus says

    @Ari:
    Four points, no attacks:

    This case does *not* “impose new new obligations” (your words) on universities. If you didn’t mean to say that the case imposes new obligations, then don’t post on the internet that the case imposes new obligations. Nor does the Ravi case send any message, direct or indirect, about new obligations of universities. The obligation of a university to act when it has knowledge that one of the residents of its dorms is being subjected to criminal or unlawful conduct already exists under NJ law; it isn’t new. So while you may have seen someone on TV talking about this, it doesn’t make it so.

    Second, I really was not kidding about how I would like to see you address the issue of the unindicted co-conspirators in this case. If you want a hook b/t this case and university life, there it is. Why is it that at 2 of the nation’s the most progressive and politically correct campuses (Rutgers and Cornell), where an off-color joke can get you sent to a tribunal, there has been not the slightest action taken against any of the students who actively aided and abetted Ravi’s scheme, or at the least, cheered him on and inflicted documented mental distress on Clementi? Do an analysis as to the the potential criminal, civil, or disciplinary exposure of the members of the “viewing party” and you’ll be bringing something unique to the discussion.

    Third, I neglected to take umbrage at your equating Clementi’s fate with that of Ravi (“one life is lost and another is ruined.”). Whatever the cause or causes, Clementi is dead. His life is over. Ravi most likely will receive the minimum sentence of 5 years and likely actually serve 1 year and several months. He likely will be out when he is at the ripe old age of 22 or at the latest 26. Then he will be deported to India. Believe it or not, life in India is not a ruined life. Just ask 1 billion Indians. To equate the fates of these 2 is insensitive at best.

    Finally, you include your academic and professional credentials on each of your posts. I presume that you do this b/c you want people to give greater weight to your legal analysis than they might if you were a layperson without those credentials. Accordingly, I do not think it is out of line to criticize those credentials. It certainly isn’t a personal attack and should not be taken as such. And yes, the delicate genius jibe was Seinfeld. Now if you’ll excuse me, these pretzels are making me thirsty.

  30. WhiteCollarHateCrime says

    INTENT: Destroy person & rob them of privacy
    MEANS: Technological vs. physical tool
    OUTCOME: Should be the same.

    A 4th tier law professor’s assumption that the White Collar nature of the act somehow mitigates the outcome and his intention MISSES the intended violence committed by Ravi.

    Ravi should get at least 10 years. Donate to the Trevor Project.

    Towleroad = NOT the best gay blog anymore.

  31. Bob says

    I think a very interesting question is
    “They were 18, legal, but just out of the house, and still controlled by their relationship to their parents”
    Tyler would be alive if Jane Clementi had been accepting, rather than cold and self-centered, when he came out.
    Dahrun would have taken the plea bargain if his father could have accepted the loss of face in the community.
    (as I see it)

  32. Michael says

    I can’t believe some people are trying to defend Ravi. He isn’t charged with the suicide however, may I ask, what do you think Ravi thought would be the outcome? The older lover has stated, in so many words, people at the dorm were reacting in a very negative manner. Ravi made the world crumble around his gay roommate. He broke the law and he’s getting what he deserves. All I can say is hopefully he’ll be paired up with a 300 pound cell mate.

  33. Tiulor says

    Through this tragic incident I’ve realized why homophobia exists….it exists because of many, many gay people. Gay people who apologize to homophobes for being homophobic and illegally commiting crimes. As is the case here. The number of people who’ve felt AS sad for Ravi as they have for Tyler when this verdict was read speaks volumes on societal homophobia, but the number of GAY people who have come to defend Ravi, and feel sorry for him facing consequences for his actions tell me that homophobia can only be cured in the gay community, because homophobia exists most amongst us gays.

  34. USC Trojan Fan says

    Shame on you Ari. You go and harpoon on gay rights, and equality and when it concerns a distressed gay individual who was beyond mistreated by a roomate who made constant and consistent issue with his being gay….you come to bat for Ravi. I will never take your writing and commentary serious again, because they lack compassion, heart and *loyalty* for the gay community. How dismissive you managed to be toward Tyler’s feelings during his time in that dorm is how dismissive you are toward all LGBT community when they face notable discrimination. You may be a lawyer, but you’re not a compassionate person, and sadly, the two seem to go against one another often.

  35. says

    A black kid roaming a neighborhood and getting shot (with little to no evidence pointing to the shooter being a rabid racist) brings the ENTIRE black community together, with marches, protests, and rallies throughout the country this week. Constant media coverage about racism in America. And the neighborhood watchman who shot the kid is already labeled as the biggest racist to walk this country, with the black community demanding a national conversation about racism.

    A gay kid has a roomate who is known to have been uncomfortable with his roomates sexuality, has stated on twitter being uncomfortable with his roomate engaging in his sexuality, has stated he “hates poor and gay people”, freely used words like “fag” and had a social gathering to webcast his gay roomates intimate moment while poking fun and laughing, leading to the suicide of said gay roomate….and virtually every write up I’ve read by gay bloggers have stated there is no evidence Ravi was at all homophobic, Ravi is being scapegoated, Ravi was just a silly immature prankster, Ravi does not dislike gay people, Ravi now has his life ruined, Ravi…Ravi…Ravi. And you wonder why gay rights are often at a stand still? Look no further than GLBT.

  36. bandanajack says

    for all the occasional high class snark, this is thus far by far the most thoroughly considered “flame war” this blog has had in ages. i was going to simply post a dismissive one liner indicative of my dissatisfaction with ari’s appraisal, single handed pilpul, not expecting to see such erudition and relative self control.

    so, i’ve made my pithy observation, expressed my deep disappointment, but i absolutely must compliment the posters thus far; this has actually shed as much light as heat, a rarety in comments sections.

  37. Dustin J. Landry says

    To Ari Ezra,

    Why is it your write ups always seem to indicate the worst form of homophobia, and the only kind of homophobia to exist is lack of marriage equality? There’s many, many other kinds of homophobia. Like having a militantly homophobic roomate in college at your dorm, as I did. One that frequently belittled my existence with homophobic jabs, and actions, and words. Of course, if that case were to be put forth to ‘gay scholars’ like yourself, it simply wouldn’t constitute at homophobia. Just kids being kids, because for folks like you, homophobia = not being able to get married, and just that.

    I often wish the gay community would first tackle the issue of homophobia (outside of courtrooms demanding marriage) before devoting every ounce of it’s effort toward one cause and one cause only. Call it an unpopular opinion, but the suicide of our gay youth is far more important than my ability to get married, yet the most vocal gay spokesmen for gay marriage have been the most indifferent toward this story. That is our problem as a community. We all rallied toward one crusafe -gay marriage- and decided to neglect everything else.

  38. Kyle-ATL says

    When a blog like towleroad has an entry equating Ravi’s justified consequences for his actions being the same as Tyler being killed (‘one life over, one life ruined’) and makes a martyr out of a known homophobe, that’s when I know a great many of the issues toward gays comes directly from gays. Internalized homophobia to be exact.

    The difference between our community and other communities is, other communities rally toward each other in known instances of tragedy toward one of their own. Be it Black, Hispanic, Jews, or women. With gays, we are the first to question our own motives, and give the benefit of the doubt to the heterosexual, while then dismissing the whole thing and making the accused heterosexual the martyr. I.E; Case in point.

  39. Michelle says

    This entire write up is sooooooooo flawed, as is everyone who has argued that Ravi as an *adult* being forced to face the punishments of *his own actions* is him being scapegoated, for a cultural sin that society should face, rather than making him accountable.

    To those of you that argue Ravi is not at fault for his homophobia and actions, and it’s societies fault, therefor society should face the blame. Then I argue that the man in the 1960s who harassed black individuals, and a man in 2012 who denies entry to an establishment to blacks is not at fault, and should face no consequences for their actions. Heck, it’s not their fault, after all, they are being scapegoats based on societies racism.

    Couldn’t every convicted crime commited with a bias toward a demographic be seen as an scapegoat because of societies shortcomings toward tolerance?
    Oh, you attacked a Latino person for being latino? Not your fault. Let’s not put you in jail, let’s try counseling. After all, it’s not your fault. It’s societies fault for being racist.
    I think SOME people are just getting a little bit creative on their wanting to justify a known homophobe, caught in the act of homophobia.

  40. Real Talk says

    Wow. This was a very disappointing read, and totally misguided.

    What I got out of Ari’s read is:

    * Every kid does what Ravi did. For this generation, spying on your roomie being intimate is no biggie (wrong, and sweeping generalization btw)

    * We’re to quick to make unlawful adults face the consequences of their actions. Adults commiting crimes is everyone else’s fault.

    * Poor Ravi. Poor, poor Ravi Dharun.

    Oddly enough, not much regarding the homophobic element of the many incidents that led to Tyler expressing depression over his living situation. Not much empathy, or even facts shared by Mr. Ezra regarding the homophobic angle of this story. Again, very discouraging read.

  41. Real Talk says

    Ari Ezrra wrote “Ravi also had tweeted his sarcastic disappointment with his roommates sexuality.”

    Wait. Hold up. sarcastic according to who? were you in Ravi’s head at the time when he made a statement clearly indicating resent and dissappointment over his roomate being gay, to know that he didn’t mean that statement at all, and was in fact saying it sarcastically (in other words, actually liked his roomate being gay)
    Who tool you his comment to a friend about not being fond of Tyler being gay was sarcastic? Me thinks this entire thing was written with a bias of it’s own, one favoring Ravi, and all but painting him as an angelic, innocent bystandard.
    Lawyers (smh)

  42. Oliver says

    “In a world where teenagers see no difference between their physical and digital selves,”

    That is not necessarily so. Many hide behind screen names (or “Anonymous”) and live double or multiple lives. The internet would be a far different place if it were required that everyone use their legal name when posting.

  43. says

    @USCTroganFan: thank you for your comment. but, with respect, if you (or anyone else) thinks i defended mr. ravi anywhere in this article, you didnt read the whole thing. nor did you read it closely. in fact, twice i say that our ire belongs directed at mr. ravi. my point is that such focus cannot be an excuse for not dealing with underlying social norms that created this problem in the first place. i dont accept your view as an alternative viewpoint because you are basically misreading my post.

  44. BZ says

    The NJ hate crimes law allows the state of mind of the victim to be taken into account, and (thanks to the internet) the prosecutors were able to do that. Tyler’s voice spoke out to those jurors in the form of his online postings. It seems to me that’s at least as big a factor in this case as shifting notions of privacy.

  45. says

    Ari, before you go questioning hate crime laws (which you did) and being an apologist for criminals with the flawed argument of ‘america has too many people behind bars’ (maybe because they commited a CRIME?!)
    read the story about a gay men who was minding his own business in D.C, walking to an IHOP, was called a fa*(*ott the entire time, then attacked, kicked, slammed, dragged, shot at…and that was just one of 3 anti gay incidents in a mile vacinity in that city. Now you go on and argue we have too many criminals behind bars, how they should be let free, and we should just be a society of forgiveness.
    Lawyers have dimensionality in their thinking. Some want us all behind bars, while a greater majority want to see every single criminal freed.

  46. Markt says

    The great things about this blog are the breadth of its subject matter, its quick turnaround, and its openness to debate. I have actually changed my opinion based on reading the comments offered here in the past. To the “I’m never coming here again nay-sayers,” who are offended by positions taken here, I hope that I’m hearing hyperbole. What a loss to only read things when you know in advance you are in agreement.

  47. DanCobb says

    I respectfully disagree with your post. I think some internalized homophobia may be at work here, Ezra. This verdict is one which resonates so broadly exactly because it indicts largely accepted (even by many gay people) that gay people are properly the subject of a certain degree of ridicule and disrespect. A college prank? Yes, and a dastardly one at that. But what happens when time and again the object of that prank is a gay man? Do you think Molly Wei or Ravi would have exhibited such ebullience at the prospect of streaming a straight roommate having sex with his girlfriend. I think not. They likely would have respected a straight roommates privacy as they would expect their heterosexual privacy to have been respected. But in a society that routinely denigrates gay people –and that routinely allows denigration of gay people to occur without objection, gays will repeatedly be the “acceptable” targets of that type of discrimination. Was Ravi a rabid homophobe? Who knows. But even if he had no specific animus toward gay people, he seemed to be completely comfortable –joyous even– about the prospects of humiliating a gay man. I think this attitude for many in the USA is societal. It is simply a part of the social inculcation that teenaged boys and young men adhere to for whatever reason. And the society at large typically does not see fit to correct their behavior. So Ravi’s discrimination is based on a social conditioning. It is to the credit of the NJ jury that they were able to see that even prejudice that is based on a broad-scale social conditioning is still prejudice. Good for them. Is Ravi suffering the penalty for a acting based on a social norm that the law in NJ has said is wrong and bigoted? Maybe so. And for him, that is to his great misfortune. But I think it is a seachange in the way the law treats gay people… I think it is genuinely a good law. I read Ms. Bazelon’s commentary in the paper. It is poorly thought out. She simply condones the behavior that Ravi exhibited when the behavior is socially acceptable in the broad-scope of things. She perpetuates that “soft homophobia” that she –without much thinking about it– appears to believe young men should be allowed to act on as part of their growing up phase. Gays as permissible targets for the desire of straight young males to humiliate and disrespect. Frankly, I was appalled at Ms. Bazelon’s op-ed. It was practically reactionary in its excuse-making for Ravi. It confirms that bigoted attitudes towards gays are alive and well in out in the open in large segments of American society.

  48. says

    i will request again that anyone who thinks i condoned mr ravis actions (or that ms. bazelon did) read our posts again. and then again. neither of us did. in fact, i stated very clearly that mr ravi acted in a way toward a gay person that he would not have done toward a straight person. i strenuously object to your suggestion that i am self-hating or homophobic. that is slanderous. please read the post again. and then again before you throw those terms around.

  49. Jay says

    Ok, I get it. You are not condoning Ravi’s actions. But you are saying that he is not the “real culprit”: “The real culprit is a legal framework so morally bankrupt that we pass laws and decide cases that eliminate all notions of responsibility for hate speech online in the name of “freedom” or “innovation,” we justify the desecration of funerals with vile hate speech on the ground of the “marketplace of ideas,” and we raise the right to speak over the responsibility of the speaker. This regime expresses various dangerous values, from the lawlessness of the Internet to the demotion of civic virtue in our society, and both are plaguing our political culture and our youth.”

    Respectfully, this is gibberish. I have no idea what the hell it means. And I don’t think you do either.

  50. says

    @jay: suggesting i have no idea what that means isnt respectful at all. it means that other laws that we have and cases that we decide about free speech on the internet and free speech in general teach us that we can say and do whatever we want online and not face the consequences.

  51. Brian says

    Ari Ezra Waldman,

    I agree with you that the system is broken, and throwing Mr. Ravi in jail fixes nothing. I believe our draconian system has tried to make an example of him, and I find this unfortunate.

    As a society, we should alter our views of jails and prisons as deterrents for crime, including homophobia. For the most part, it would seem that sending people to prison has no correlation with reducing crime (As a country, we send a greatest amount of people per capita than any other). Rather, I would like to see LGBT people focus more on educating than retaliating for crimes related to homophobia.

    You mentioned one life lost, and another one ruined. Instead of sending Ravi to prison, why couldn’t we have educated him instead? Forced him to meet people from the LGBT community, to truly learn and understand what he did, and to give what he learned to others?

    There’s probably deeper issues here than just failure to teach privacy to kids online. I don’t think it’s this simple.

  52. anon says

    The real problem here is the “greater wisdom conceit” which holds that under a vague law, or a series of muddled court cases, the state holds that a private judgment is subject to the state’s greater wisdom, which can be very ad hoc. Most of the write ups by lawyers I read on this case suggest that under this case law the state gets to decide what everyone was thinking, what everyone’s intent was and how properly everyone should have behaved. There have even been seriously considered theories of rape that go along these lines (eg. the classic “It’s rape if she changes her mind” theory).

    Also, in a free society, we really aren’t suppose to impose every manner of morality on everyone, leaving no discretion to the individual. This is supposed to be done in a minimalist fashion in pursuit of justice and the law. It unsettles us when Rick Santorum wants to impose his vision of a moral order on everyone, so we have to give up the goal of imposing ours on everyone else–unless you just see this as merely a question of political power. This goal is also something of a delusional fantasy, as it will never happen, just ask the Pope.

  53. Mike says

    Let’s cut through all the legalese. A hate crime is a crime motivated by animus towards a person for the protected group to which he or she belongs. Period.

    Merriam-Webster defintion: “usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will”

    I dont care whether Ravi liked, hated or was indifferent toward gays. He acted spitefully and with malevolence and prejudice toward Clementi. That is all that needs to happen.

    And I completely don’t understand why a gay lawyer would argue the opposite. The verdict fits the crime; the punishment fits the verdict.

  54. Patricia Simone says

    I feel as though this article as well as the Emily Bazelon article linked both spend their entire time arguing for how we need to teach our youth about privacy protection with technology, as if there was no homophobic element to this horrible case. The one time both of you did mention it, was barely in passing as if to suggest it didn’t play the incredible role that it did here. Ravi made a text saying gays are not welcomed here, regarding Tyler. Ari, I’ll be sure to skip your write ups from here on out.

  55. says

    while there’s no real ‘argument’ against Ravi’s convictions on specific criminal acts, the reality is that what led to Clementi’s death, and the other LGBT Youth deaths, was not the individual acts of bullies, but greater Cultural Bigotry.

    the bullied kids go home, and what do they see? ‘respected’ politicians and religious leaders saying the exact same thing schoolyard bullies say, and WORSE, to packed audiences who cheer on the bigotry with rapturous applause.

    THAT is what’s killing us.

  56. Linda says

    To those who are criticizing the verdict because they feel it was a result “selective enforcement” — that there may not have even been a trial if Clementi hadn’t died — I’d like to point out that a hundred people may drive drunk before someone is injured. But we prosecute driving under the influence because it has the potential to harm other people. Drunk drivers don’t mean to kill anyone. But your activities, especially your activities to entertain yourself, shouldn’t cause pain or risk to other people. Technology, whether mechanical (cars) or electronic (computers) gives us so much power, that actions that may have no malicious intent (which Ravi certainly had) can have severe consequences. I think the laws have to evolve to reflect that. Spying on other people should be prosecuted, whether an individual incident causes a reaction or not.

  57. says

    the anti-gay side of this trial was gallingly interesting – a young man is being ‘accused’ of what many US political leaders are lauded for.

    stunning, eh?

    the message is almost “don’t bully your gay peers. finish school, go into politics, and then slander and demonize the entire LGBT Community at a national level.”

  58. Markt says

    Littlekiwi thanks for making your points and doing it well. The stark schizophrenia over homosexuality is the most amazing social phenomena today – but it is part of a larger trend. Demonization and outrage over small (and merely perceived) differences appears to be the fuel that runs the country at this point.

  59. Jerry6 says

    Clementi asked Ravi for privacy for a period of time in their room. Ravi, not only invaded that privacy, he recorded and published what Clementi and his guest were doing. Ravi’s actions, by the placement of the video camera to view the Bed in the room, and to invite an other person to view it with him, tells us directly what Ravi’s intent and purpose was in the matter; i.e. to embarrass and ridicule his Room Mate. Ravi deserves no sympathy.

  60. Tylers Ghost says

    Ravi is no innocent lamb. The confusion comes from the uninformed, who somehow believe he was charged with the death of his roommate. He was not. The truth is, Ravi spied, invaded privacy, tried to cover up, re-wrote (or tried to rewrite) Tweets and texts, all with the purpose of covering his butt after finding out Clementi would end his life. What never came out at trial: He never got in touch with Clementi’s family, sent flowers, a note, nor attended the funeral. HE DID NOT CARE. He was and is a selfish, immature person. He will in 3 weeks pay his debt to society via his jail sentence. The guilt he will live with will be with him forever.

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