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ABC News: New Jersey Prosecuters Considering Hate Crime Charges

Jim Burroway

October 1st, 2010

ABC’s Good Morning America is reporting that New Jersey prosecutors investigating Tyler Clementi’s suicide are considering adding hate crime charges against Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, who have been charged with violating Tyler’s privacy after livestreaming video of Tyler’s sexual encounter with another male without his knowledge.

According to ABC News, New Jersey’s state law against “bias intimidation” makes it a criminal offense to invade someone’s privacy because of sexual orientation. The word “because” may be the sticking point. The publicly released information available so far can easily point to this crime being motivated by other factors. Motivations of personal animus toward Tyler fit the evidence just as easily. So does the motivation to simply pull an idiotic and appalling “prank.”

Either way, invasions of privacy are felony offenses. While references to Tyler’s sexuality appear on tweets that Ravi posted to his Twitter account, none of them use anti-gay epithets or indicate overt hostility toward Tyler’s sexuality — at least what we know so far of Ravi’s postings so far. Demonstrating that Tyler was singled out specifically because of his sexuality in a court of law may prove difficult, unless prosecutors have found further evidence that they haven’t made public yet.

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Lindoro Almaviva
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

Yea, based on the publicly available evidence, I do not see animus towards a gay man, but just a couple of young kids doing something incredibly stupid because they thought it was funny.

TampaZeke
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

This would be a gross misuse of hate crimes law that would feed right into the misinformed arguments against them.

Don’t make the bogus arguments against hate crimes laws prove to be factual.

MattNYC
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

Jim,

I agree–per my comments yesterday. It was surprisingly free of slurs and even the justusboys posts–assuming they are truly Tyler’s–do not claim that the roommate was atigay–just that he was a jerk.

Jason D
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

Jerks? Yes.
Criminal? Yes.

Hate Crime? I’m not seeing it.

Tyler seems to be the victim of a sh*tty roommate(with an accomplice), who would’ve probably pulled the same thing on a straight roommate. Perhaps I’ve missed something but it seems Ravi was intent on spying and the discovery that Tyler was making out with a man was a titilating discovery.

Amicus
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

Well, roommate troubles are among the worst. There are stories of Harvard kids driven to killing each other.

But, we’re just four weeks into the semester. That’s not enough time, in my estimation, for personal animus to be a controlling factor, barring extraordinary circumstances.

There are some people who are quite fine with gays, as long as they stay ‘in their place’ in the pecking order and as long as they take the ribbing they are given.

It could be that Clementi wasn’t that kind of guy, even if he appears to have been shy (god knows, he had the apparent confidence as a freshman to have a guy over, twice, and the confidence to easily recognize that ‘spying’, not ‘gay’, should have been the real focus of concern after the first video).

Anyway, it’s potentially telling that Ravi went right for “the gay” in his illegal “prank” (think about all the other kinds of pranks he could have pulled). That’s a way of trying to put Tyler ‘back in his place’ and also a hallmark of people who have been picked or shunned because of their own backgrounds.

Pender
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

I fully support this. Ravi is scum, and I can’t picture an argument that he would have done the same to a straight roommate passing the laugh test.

Emily K
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

I think that the fact that Clementi was hooking up with a man played a factor. I mean, it IS still more “scandalous” to be gay than straight. gay hookups are more titillating and “exotic” than straight hookups.

So, the atrociousness of this crime aside, I see Ravi in the light of a TV producer. “we gotta get the most salacious thing on the air for our hidden camera special – go with the gay stuff, that’s what really gets eyeballs tuned in!” But such a guy would not necessarily think gays are inferior; just savvy enough to know that (unfortunately) to many people gay acts are more scandalous than straight ones.

F Young
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

@Amicus
“Tyler seems to be the victim of a sh*tty roommate(with an accomplice), who would’ve probably pulled the same thing on a straight roommate.”

I don’t think that is a useful comparison. It is impossible to do the same thing to a straight person. Only gays can be outed.

@Lindoro Almaviva
“I do not see animus towards a gay man, but just a couple of young kids doing something incredibly stupid because they thought it was funny.”

The way I see it, they clearly must have considered that Tyler had no right to respect and privacy, or that his rights were trivial. While they may or may not have intended to hurt him, they apparently did not care if he was hurt. Indeed, they may well have thought that hurting him was funny.

So, in my book, they were sociopathic, but perhaps not homophobic. That might not be enough for a hate crime conviction, but it’s enough for a permanent expulsion from the university.

John
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

The prosecutors are “considering” hate crime charges. Under the circumstances, I think it is appropriate for them to consider whether this was a hate crime, rather than dismiss that concept out of hand.

Hate crime prosecutions are difficult. There have been a number of cases in San Francisco where hate crime enhancements have not been pursued, because the DA determined that the hate crime part of the case would be too difficult to prove.

Prosecutors decide all the time what they can charge a person with and what they might actually be able to convict them of. This can also play a roll in the type fo plea bargain they eventually make. Sounds like the prosecutors are just doing their job, particularly in a case involving a dead 18 year old.

John in the Bay Area
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

The above post was from me “John in the Bay Area.”

Jason D
October 1st, 2010 | LINK

I said: “Tyler seems to be the victim of a sh*tty roommate(with an accomplice), who would’ve probably pulled the same thing on a straight roommate.”

F YOUNG replied: I don’t think that is a useful comparison. It is impossible to do the same thing to a straight person. Only gays can be outed.

I’m sorry, F Young, did everyone in the world become an extrovert while I was asleep?

Yes it is possible to spy on a straight person and expose a private moment and humiliate them. Or do straight people all enjoy making out for an audience and being laughed at?

customartist
October 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Lindoro Almaviva,

Animus is not necessary for someone to be harrassed, which was indeed the Intent of the perpetrator. He attempted to capitalize specifically on the selaciousness of his roomate’s homosexuality. Just because he could have harrassed for other reasons is not what is at issue here.

The court should not belittle the rezults of “jokesters” actions when they equate to “bias intimidation”. This is not necessarily homo-phobia, but it is certainly Heterosexism.

This case, and the other recent cases of Gays harrassed to silmilar ends, must end in court rulings and legislation ending the phenomenon.

customartist
October 2nd, 2010 | LINK

@F Young,

“Only gays can be outed.”

This is a very good point.

While overt hate may have not been displayed, THE ACT which is clearly against a Gay man, and for being Gay, is an Action of contempt, and toward a gay person.

We are not judging thought here, but actions, and proveable ones at that.

Without jail time, the rights of victims of Bias Intimidation, and those of Gays in particular, have been discarded.

Jason D
October 2nd, 2010 | LINK

where are you guys getting the “bias intimidation” angle on this?

Someone writes “die, fag, die” on your house, that’s bias intimidation.

But in this case, Tyler didn’t know he was being video-broadcast and didn’t learn of it until he checked his roommate’s twitter acount the next day as BTB reported here

“I checked his twitter today. he tweeted that I was using the room (which is obnoxious enough), AND that he went into somebody else’s room and remotely turned on his webcam and saw me makeing out with a guy.”

How is it bias intimidation without them knowing? It’s one thing to paint something on someone’s house, you know they’re going to come home and see it. Depending on how often Tyler checks twitter, he may have missed the post(s) entirely.

The tweet itself suggests that Tyler’s homosexuality was discovered by Ravi when the webcam feed came through:

“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

Ravi and Wei are criminals. They invaded Tyler’s privacy and for that, they deserve nothing less than the full punishment of the law. The bias claim is rather flimsy given current information and the “intimidation” angle is completely groundless.

Andrew
October 4th, 2010 | LINK

Jim, thanks for your measured and fact-based reporting on this emotional issue. I’ve been critical of editorializing on this site recently, and it’s really great to see information provided with a dispassionate perspective.

With respect to my take on this… the report that authorities are even considering a hate crimes charge is substantial — it sends out a warning message that authorities take orientation-based harrassment seriously.

Folks remember that these are very young adults. To say that they might employ poor judgement doesn’t justify their behavior, but it’s a bit different from someone who *hasn’t* just left their parent’s home a few weeks ago. In short — if kids are going to do something cruel & stupid, the first semester away from parental authority is pretty much the time to expect it.

My point is — this kids were pretty horrible, and their behavior was DEFINITELY CRIMINAL but I’m not prepared to say they’re “scum”. “Jerk”, “Bully”, and criminally / civilly liable certainly apply. I suspect they had no idea that this behavior could lead to death. No, I’m not minimizing bullying behavior, but I am trying to keep within the order of magnitude — there are plenty of people out there actually trying to cause physical harm or death to LGBT and we would to well to segregate those who are passively horrible from those who act with physical intent. These two are young enough that they might be rehabilitated.

I guess where I’m going is: throw the book at these jerks, but leave room for more severe punishment for fully formed adults engaging in bad behavior, and even more room for appropriate punishment for gaybashers and antigay terrorists…

justsearching
October 5th, 2010 | LINK

A little off topic, but check out WND’s take on this story ( http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=211469 )

The columnist writes “The tragic story of a young college student who committed suicide after his privacy was violated has awoken many to the immense power of the Internet, Twitter, Skype and the rapidly growing and evolving technology that allows a moving image to be livestreamed to the world in real time without our knowledge or permission.”

The story then morphs into a criticism of the scary means that Obama/Democrats will similarly invade our privacy by modernizing wiretapping methods. Sigh. At least WND isn’t using this story to demonstrate their disgust for hate-crime legislation, yet.

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