Does Tyler Clementi's Suicide Prove Dharun Ravi Is a Bigot?

Citing my comments on last week's verdict in Dharun Ravi's "bias intimidation" trial, Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court editor at CQ Press, notes that "libertarian and conservative critics" (progressives too) complain that hate crime statutes "infringe on freedom of expression" (as well as freedom of conscience), although such arguments have been rejected by the Supreme Court. Jost says Ravi was "found guilty of anti-gay conduct," not anti-gay views. That is partly because he does not seem to have harbored anti-gay views, as I pointed out last week and will discuss further in my column tomorrow. In any case, Jost argues that "Ravi was rightly held responsible for making his roommate feel vulnerable to all the harm that anti-gay prejudice can bring about" by "singling out Clementi as different...because of his sexuality." To my mind, this emphasis on Clementi's (presumed) feelings, rather than Ravi's intent, is one of the case's most troubling aspects.

Jost notes that Ravi faces up to of 10 years in prison but seems to think that would be excessive. Michelangelo Signorile says so explicitly, while defending the verdict:

I don't want to see Ravi deported, nor getting a ten-year prison term, the maximum sentence for his crimes.

But the bottom line is that Ravi was offered a plea deal in which he would have avoided jail time as well as deportation. Instead, he and his legal team put faith in what they thought was a homophobic judicial system, one that would slough off hate crimes against gays—as it had so many times in the past—and once again validate the "gay panic" defense, which in this case was dressed up as the "teen prank" defense.

That's one way of looking at it. Or you could say Ravi refused to plead guilty, even though it would have kept him out of jail and (probably) in the country, because he did not think he had committed a hate crime. As Ravi's father told Newark Star-Ledger columnist Mark Di Ionno right before the verdict:

There is a principle here. My son was not raised to have hate in his heart. We are not hateful people. My wife and I are not like that. We have not raised our family to be like that. I know my son, and he is not a hateful person. Whatever he did to Tyler was not out of bias toward him.

In a CNN essay, George Washington University law professor Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, argues that people see Ravi as an anti-gay bigot because they assume his webcam spying drove Clementi to suicide: 

A lot of people want a pound of flesh from Ravi because they blame him for Clementi's death. Tyler's reaction was tragic, and it was idiosyncratic. It is possible to deeply mourn Clementi's death and also to acknowledge that he probably had issues other than Ravi. No judge in the country would have allowed a homicide prosecution, because, legally speaking, Ravi did not cause the death, nor was it reasonably foreseeable. Of the millions of people who are bullied or who suffer invasions of privacy, few kill themselves.

Citing Butler at TechDirt, Mike Masnick compares Ravi to Lori Drew, a middle-aged woman who was blamed for driving a 13-year-old girl to suicide by creating a fake MySpace persona that befriended her before turning on her. Because Drew had broken no laws, local prosecutors in Missouri declined to charge her with anything (imagine that!), but that did not stop federal prosecutors in California from trying to lock her up for violating MySpace's terms of service. "Punishing people based on others' suicides is a mistake," Masnick says, "because whether or not your actions are seen as criminal depends almost entirely on how someone else reacts to them." Furthermore, "the incentive then is actually for kids to seriously hurt themselves, if someone acts in a mean way towards them, as that increases the likelihood of the bully getting punished."

For more on the constitutional case against hate crime laws, see my 1992 Reason feature "What's Hate Got to Do With it?" and my 2007 column "Looking for Hate in All the Wrong Places." 

[Thanks to Hans Bader for the Jost link.]

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  • Rich||

    "libertarian[s"] complain that hate crime statutes "infringe on freedom of expression," although such arguments have been rejected by the Supreme Court.

    That is not the primary reason "hate crimes" are an abomination.

  • Old Mexican||

    he and his legal team put faith in what they thought was a homophobic judicial system, one that would slough off hate crimes against gays—as it had so many times in the past—and once again validate the "gay panic" defense, which in this case was dressed up as the "teen prank" defense.


    Actually, this is NO way to look at it. It is so convoluted and preposterous a reason to go to trial that it would have meant the accused and the lawyers were deranged.

  • ||

    Any defense attorney who bets his client's fortunes on the American justice system being biased against a group with a politically-powerful grievance lobby ought to sued into penury for malpractice, and disbarred.

  • ||

    What was this lawyer thinking? The kid would be picking up some trash on the side of the road now if he had taken the plea bargain.

  • Hudd||

    Is opposition to plea-bargaining a common libertarian position?

  • ||

    Couldn't say. This libertarian is opposed to it in our current system.

    It fosters abuse by prosecutors, who can lard up a mountain of charges and absurd potential jail time to extract a plea bargain.

    It also facilitates our abusive legal system, by allowing a multitude of laws to proliferate without the complete collapse of the system that would occur if violations of those laws had to be brought to trial

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Hudd,

    Is opposition to plea-bargaining a common libertarian position?


    What opposition? Your question is loaded.

  • Tom||

    I think it is good because by loading up charges we can get people who we don't have enough evidence to convict, but we just know they are guilty.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Is opposition to plea-bargaining a common libertarian position?

    Rejoinder:

    Who said opposition to plea-bargaining is a libertarian, much less a common position?

  • ||

    The 'hate crime' aspect or anti-gay bias of the case is lunacy.

    However - deport this Stasi ratfuck nark ASAP.

  • X||

    Clementi is the one who committed a hate crime.

  • d||

    Read the real story! Ravi sought to bully and intimidate his roommate before even meeting him. Everything was planned out! It is stupid to call it a "teenage prank", when both parties were adults to begin with!There should be zero tolerance for bullying across the nation, in schools, in the workplace ect. Rest in peace Tyler Clementi.

    http://www.newyorker.com/repor.....act_parker

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: d,

    Ravi sought to bully and intimidate his roommate before even meeting him.


    "Ravi is psychic!"

  • X||

    I don't care why someone commits suicide. It's a personal policy of mine. You seem to think he had a legitimate reason. I think my policy is kinder.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Or, maybe Clementi was just an asshole, and Ravi decided to give him tit-for-tat like a typical immature college student. Doesn't mean he's guilty of a crime.

  • Realist||

    Or maybe Ravi is an asshole.

  • ||

    Punishing people based on others' suicides is a mistake," Masnick says, "because whether or not your actions are seen as criminal depends almost entirely on how someone else reacts to them."

    Of course, this is a description of hate crimes in general, which seek to punish you because of how other people react (or even might react) to something you said.

  • ||

    Said. Or did. Meaning: conduct, not an opinion or "thought crime."

    If you tell someone, "I will kill you right now," and the addressed defends him/herself, isn't the law going to judge you based on how "other people react (or even might react) to something you said"?

  • Hugo Longbone||

    Um, stomping a dude because he is X, Y, or Z has nothing to do with subjective opinion of the victim, it's all about the stomping and the defendant's subjective intent to stop because the victim was X, Y or Z. But to the extent the actus reus is not physical violence, I see your point.

  • np||

    This is so exactly it.

    I just cannot understand why some people can't see the irrationality of this.

    I tell person A to jump off a bridge. Person A jumps off.

    I tell person B to jump off a bridge. Person B does not.

    Same action, two different reactions. To be responsible for Person's A suicide mean to also be the cause of their suicide. But to establish causality means that Person B and anyone else, must also jump off and yet they do not. That is, by definition, your act of telling them to jump off a bridge would be equivalent to pushing them off a bridge.

  • ||

    He may not be a bigot, but he is an asshole

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Steve Fraser,

    He may not be a bigot, but he is an asshole


    That does not mean he is guilty of a crime.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Last I checked, being an asshole isn't a crime. Otherwise, most of the internet would be in prison.

  • ||

    But "Steve Fraser" most certainly would be. I guess I'm just "moronophobic". What is it about having a male phallus in your mouth that makes you so stupid? Well, my wife is also a tad unreasonable and overly empathetic too – must run with the gender choice.

  • ||

    It often is. Being the kind of asshole that sets up a webcam and remotely watches an unsuspecting person is just one type of asshole behavior that is illegal.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Being the kind of asshole that sets up a webcam and remotely watches an unsuspecting person is just one type of asshole behavior that is illegal.

    Except it isn't, smart guy. Collecting or viewing images depicting nudity or sexual contact involving another person without their consent is illegal, and what Ravi is being charged with.

    Whether you take a kiss on the lips to be sexual contact or not is a valid question.

    And I'll ask again, who was this older male booty call who co-starred in Clementi's Freshmen Gone Wild cam-show and has he been eliminated as a potential murder suspect?

  • Old Mexican||

    But the bottom line is that Ravi was offered a plea deal in which he would have avoided jail time as well as deportation.


    "Repent, ye sinner!"

  • The Court||

    That fucker showed no remorse!

  • ||

    He pled not guilty asshole. Why should he show remorse? The fag was already “out”; freedom means living with your choices – you don’t get special treatment under law. Asshole.

  • Old Mexican||

    Does Tyler Clementi's Suicide Prove Dharun Ravi Is a Bigot?


    It could prove he's the reincarnation of the Queen of Saba for all I care but not that he's guilty of a crime.

  • ||

    (part 1) Mr Sullum appears misinformed on several points:

    >"That is partly because he (i.e.) Mr Ravi) does not seem to have harbored anti-gay views"

    The jury thought otherwise on the strength of Prosection evidence including texts and tweets sent by him to friends like Ms Huang and Mr Xu, to wit, "Keep the gays away" and "I'm f!@#ed! My roommate is gay!".

    Those in fact are not even thoughts or views, sufficient incidentally to construe motive in a hate crime and upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1993 Wisconsin v Mitchell, but written WORDS clearly ascribed to Mr Ravi.

    The jury was asked to determine if that written electronic evidence constituted anti-gay motive beyond reasonable doubt, and they said it did.

    (part 1, to be continued)

  • ||

    The jury was asked to determine if that written electronic evidence constituted anti-gay motive beyond reasonable doubt, and they said it did.

    Then they're a pack of gibbering morons. The mere fact that somebody has expressed, to third parties, reservations about having a gay roommate doesn't demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that he invaded his roommate's privacy out of anti-gay motive.

    Sullum isn't misinformed in the slightest; you're just an asshole.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: GLC,

    The jury was asked to determine if that written electronic evidence constituted anti-gay motive beyond reasonable doubt, and they said it did.


    Otherwise any other motive would have rendered the accusation moot, I guess. Since it was determined that he was anti-gay, then there was a crime. If not, then not.

    I mean, do you even stop to think what you write before you send?

  • ||

    (part 2, continued)

    >"To my mind, this emphasis on Clementi's (presumed) feelings, rather than Ravi's intent, is one of the case's most troubling aspects."

    No, it is not from the jury's verdict on the most important 8th count for Bias Intimidation in the 2nd.

    Full text below:

    COUNT 8
    2nd Degree Bias Intimidation

    • Invasion of Privacy, with the purpose to intimidate Tyler Clementi because of sexual orientation: GUILTY

    • Invasion of Privacy, knowing that the conduct constituting invasion of privacy would cause Tyler Clementi to be intimidated because of sexual orientation: GUILTY

    • Invasion of Privacy, under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation: GUILTY

    (end of part 2, to be contd)

  • MJ||

    Was Ravi's purpose to "intimidate" (whatever that means in this context) because of Clementi's orientation or because Clementi kept bringing sketchy people into their dorm room?

    The intimidation charge is nonsense. The only thing Ravi did that could reasonably be considered a crime is the web camera and attempting to let other people access it.

  • Tom||

    They needed to make an example of him.

  • ||

    (part 3 and concluding part)

    This was a clinically precise trial and will be very difficult to overturn on appeal on defective state statute throught the Federal Court of Appeals and/or through certiorari and discretionary review with the US Supreme Court, given precedent that would need revisiting.

    Imputing plain or harmful error by the jury or otherwise in a finding of facts case at the State Appellate Division or State Supreme Court will also be technically difficult.

    (End, 3rd and final part)

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: GCL,

    Imputing plain or harmful error by the jury or otherwise in a finding of facts case at the State Appellate Division or State Supreme Court will also be technically difficult.


    You have some balls to say this. Just because a verdict is difficult to overturn does not mean ipso facto the person is indeed guilty of a crime. What Mr. Sullum is arguing is that the jury was persuaded by emotion rather than by facts. The fact is the death of Mr. Clementi was entirely the result of his own decision to end his life. Whether Mr. Ravi's actions can be construed as harassment, in no way can they be determined by a rational mind to be the DIRECT cause of Mr. Climenti's death. The jury simply wanted to make an example of Mr. Ravi for committing what was, in their view, a sin.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "Ravi was rightly held responsible for making his roommate feel vulnerable to all the harm that anti-gay prejudice can bring about"

    That's...interesting. Useless and a waste of perfectly good words, but interesting. Last I checked, hurting someone's feelings wasn't a crime.

    by "singling out Clementi as different...because of his sexuality."

    I hate to come in and burst bubbles, but in terms of sexual preferences, being less than 5% of the population does make you different. But I don't hear frotteurs complaining about being made to feel "different."

  • Hugo Longbone||

    Tyler Clementi might have been gay, but both these guys acted like fags. A person of any character would have come clean on the 20th. But instead, Ravi was a scumbag shit, who wanted to use his web cam to churn gossip with his friends. Clementi was a fucking drama queen more intent on getting back at Ravi than actually settling the issue. Then again, I used to jerk off in my dorm while my roomate was still there. Yeah, I was that guy.

  • ||

    I've long felt I was punished because of Marcus Porcius Cato's suicide! Ravi, I feel for you!

    But then, Cicero, Catulus, and Bibulus tried to intimidate me over my sexual preferences, so Clementi, I feel for you too!

  • ||

    Another drug addled Reason editor misses the point. What fucking difference does it make if Ravi was, in fact, a bigot or not? Is that illegal or even relevant? Do you even know what freedom means beyond the right to fry your brain with narcotics?

  • 16th amendment||

    I think he'll win on appeal. The hate crime legislation is bogus. Read http://www.northjersey.com/new.....ppeal.html to read about practical approaches to appeal.

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