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Dharun Ravi Trial: Hate Crime Or Stupidity? 671

Posted by timothy
from the when-things-overlap dept.
theodp writes "After a 17-month wait, 20-year-old Dharun Ravi went on trial Friday for using a remote webcam to spy on an encounter between his roommate and another man in their Rutgers dorm room. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself days later, jumping off the George Washington Bridge and igniting a national conversation on cyberbullying and gay teen suicide. Ravi is charged with multiple counts of bias intimidation as a hate crime, invasion of privacy and hindering apprehension; he faces up to 10 years in prison and deportation. Defense lawyers on Friday argued that Ravi's actions were the mark of an ignorant teenager, not a hateful homophobe. 'He may be stupid at times,' said Ravi's lawyer. 'He's an 18-year-old boy, but he's certainly not a criminal.' The New Yorker recently offered an in-depth look at the case and the questions it raises. BTW, this might be a good time for Microsoft to retire that Hallway commercial ('Jason gets stranded in the hallway when his roommate is 'tutoring' lady friends in their dorm room. Luckily, with Windows 7, his laptop can now work like an HD DVR. So Jason can entertain himself while waiting. And waiting. Aaand waiting some more.')."
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Dharun Ravi Trial: Hate Crime Or Stupidity?

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  • Commercial (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:37PM (#39164423)
    No question that commercial is moronic, but it doesn't have any relevance to the spying via webcam thing. Timothy's trying a bit too hard to find something to bash Microsoft about this time.
    • Re:Commercial (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the simurgh (1327825) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:29PM (#39164841)
      he admits he set up the webcam to record his roommates sexual encounters to prove he was gay and then set out to tell everyone. he's a guilty of a hate crime as if i were him I'd be glad they didn't put a felony charge on there so they could get try and get him on the victim's suicide.
      • Re:Commercial (Score:4, Insightful)

        by msobkow (48369) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:24PM (#39165777) Homepage Journal

        I don't agree.

        If I try to catch a girlfriend cheating on me and post the video all over the place to show what a slut she is, it's stupid, it's childish, and it's selfish.

        But it's not a hate crime.

        There is no evidence that he had a general hatred of gays or was persecuting the gay community as a whole. Only that he wanted to "out" his roommate. And as despicable as that may be and as terrible as the end result was, that is NOT a hate crime.

        • by luckymutt (996573)

          If I try to catch a girlfriend cheating on me and post the video all over the place to show what a slut she is, it's stupid, it's childish, and it's selfish.

          But it's not a hate crime.

          You are correct, it is not a hate crime.
          However, the difference is that in your example you are trying to expose someone's wrong-doing.
          In the present case, it was more about trying to humiliate someone for no reason, at best, and as a hateful intolerant act at worst.

        • Re:Commercial (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @06:42PM (#39167103)

          I don't agree.

          If I try to catch a girlfriend cheating on me and post the video all over the place to show what a slut she is, it's stupid, it's childish, and it's selfish.

          But it's not a hate crime.

          There is no evidence that he had a general hatred of gays or was persecuting the gay community as a whole. Only that he wanted to "out" his roommate. And as despicable as that may be and as terrible as the end result was, that is NOT a hate crime.

          The very fact that he wanted to out the guy shows the intent. Would he had do the same thing had the roommate being dating, say, the head cheerleader? I do not think so. I don't think he would have posted the news in twitter, either. He wanted his roommate marked as gay in front of the community, assuming that the community would shun him. That alone makes it a hate crime.

          The difference between hate speech and being just an asshole is when being an asshole is so common place that it becomes a social problem. Lets say that this Dharun guy was not worried about his roommate being gay, but by him wearing Star Trek costumes. So he spies on him and "outs" him as a Star Trek fan. Ok, a little weird but there is no really social opinion against trekkies. Nobody would care / gossip / harass about that.

          The trouble is that outing him as a gay, in an ambient where homophobic bullying is allowed(*) can really cause a problem. Think that he was not filming a 30 something adult who might give a shit about what his coleagues might think, but another teenager who probably wanted to blend in the crowd. It is really a very different thing.

          * Note that I don't say that bullying from a majority or else, but even a very small vocal minority can cause really problems if the rest of the population does not stop them(think of the Scottsboro nutcracks). And we know that bulliers are rarely opposed by those who do not want to become targets.

          • by russotto (537200)

            He wanted his roommate marked as gay in front of the community, assuming that the community would shun him. That alone makes it a hate crime.

            He could have outed his roommate as gay and openly advocated that he be shunned and he'd have been perfectly within his rights to do so. That's not a hate crime because it's not even a crime.

            The crimes he's alleged to have committed are invasion of privacy, bias intimidation (related to the invasion of privacy), and evidence tampering. Bias intimidation requires that

            • Re:Commercial (Score:5, Insightful)

              by jbolden (176878) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @11:36PM (#39168819) Homepage

              Perfectly legal acts combined with illegal acts can be consider actions in furtherance of a crime. For example driving the car with the money away from the bank is still a crime even though taking that exact same route for another purpose isn't.

              The prosecution is going to have to prove a lot here. I'd rather they stop playing games and charge people engaged in bullying that leads to a death with involuntary manslaughter.

      • Re:Commercial (Score:5, Insightful)

        by countvlad (666933) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @04:47PM (#39166343)

        Why does this have to be a hate crime?

        Isn't the whole point of "equal protection under the law" to give us all the same protections of the justice system? Why should it matter who's privacy was invaded, who was beaten, or who was killed? Shouldn't all of these acts of evil be abhorrent in our society regardless of why they were committed? Isn't it hypocritical to cry for "equal rights" and then write laws which are, by definition, unequal? It's a sad, narrow minded overreaction to the injustices of the past.

        Hate crime law, like the Jim Crow laws of the last century, are a backward and draconian implementation of justice and social regulation that are a slap in the face to equality. The sooner we stop drawing distinctions like these, the sooner we'll progress to a society that is open and accepting of so called "alternative lifestyles."

        Incidentally, what this man did was a horrendous invasion of privacy and fully deserves to be considered a felony. He should be tried in a court of law and regardless of the outcome should be exported (obviously at the end of his sentence if found guilty).

        • Re:Commercial (Score:5, Informative)

          by yali (209015) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @06:15PM (#39166903)

          If you kill a man, you have committed a murder.

          If you kill a man while announcing to a bunch of people, "This could be any one of you, and unless you start acting like I want you to act (or disappear entirely), next time it will be," you have committed a murder. But you have done other things too. You have also threatened a bunch of people with violence.

          The legal theory behind hate crimes is that they are like the second case. When you target somebody partially or wholly because of their membership in a group (not just them as a unique individual), you are making an implicit threat against that entire group. When it is a group that has a long history of being targeted with similar violence, your implicit threat carries an especially large capability to intimidate. Hence the need to give special status to hate crimes.

          • So the ELF people, when blowing up cars and spiking trees and so on are committing hate crimes?

            Or the people in the ghettos and barrios when the yell at white people and flash gang signs are committing hate crimes and polling places?

            Or one of the many other situations exactly like what you describe, but aren't against "protected class" groups that get ignored by everyone else because it is completely unremarkable?

            My point? People say they want what you said, except that it hardly ever gets equal treatment u

        • by snowgirl (978879)

          Why should it matter who's privacy was invaded, who was beaten, or who was killed?

          Hate crimes are not about WHO, they're about WHY.

          If you're a white man, and you kill a black guy because he was cheating with your wife, then it's not a hate crime.

          If you're a black man, and you kill your white wife for insurance money, then that's not a hate crime.

          If you record your wife because you suspect she's hiding money from you, then that's not a hate crime.

          If you're a white man and you kill a black guy, BECAUSE THEY'RE BLACK, that is a hate crime.

          If you're a black man, and you kill your white wife

        • by skine (1524819)

          The reason that they are prosecuted differently is because the motive is important.

          It's one thing for me to burn down someone's house. It's another for me to burn down their house because they're gay.

          While I'm not sure this is actually an example of a hate crime, it is something worth looking into.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:37PM (#39164425)

    We need a new legal category, Asshole. Beyond Guilty or Not Guilty the Asshole standard would be added after guilt or innocence so we could find someone was Not Guilty but still an Asshole.

    • by bhagwad (1426855) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:59PM (#39164573) Homepage
      Why should the law or the government get to mandate good manners? Either something is legal or not. The law has to be blind to everything else. The contract I have with society is that I get my rights in return for my taxes and my compliance with the law. There's no mention of "good manners" anywhere.

      It's as if two companies have a contract between them and one of them says "Well, in addition to our agreed clauses, it'll also be 'good manners' if you were to do this, this and this. Otherwise you're an asshole" :D

      Doesn't make sense.
      • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:14PM (#39164723)

        I'm fairly certain taking naked video of people in sexual encounters where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy isn't just bad manners, but probably illegal. Especially if you then go and publish said video to the world. I think the only reason this case might be murky is since they were roommates, Ravi had the right to be in the room and didn't have to break and enter to install a camera.

        Still, just because you live in a house doesn't, say, give you the right to record people naked in the bathrooms or having sex in bedrooms and pubish that on the internet without their consent. This is illegal by itself. However, I suspect the penalties aren't particularly harsh.

        This doesn't address the hate crime angle of things here. Any time you take naked pictures or sexual pictures of people without permission and post them on the internet to mock them, it's awful. If the video showed a naked guy with a small penis, or a girl fucking a horrendously ugly guy, that could be every bit as embarrassing for the small-dicked man or the woman in question as this was for the homosexual man. What makes the crime awful is that the man in question was obviously depressed and emotionally disturbed to begin with, and these actions resulted in so much embarrassment that they led to suicide. So really it's bullying an emotionally fragile person that's awful, not anything specific about the sexual orientations that makes it a "hate crime".

        • by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:51PM (#39165053)

          If the video showed a naked guy with a small penis, or a girl fucking a horrendously ugly guy, that could be every bit as embarrassing for the small-dicked man or the woman in question as this was for the homosexual man.

          No, actually, and this goes to show how ignorant you are on GLBT issues.

          GLBT individuals don't face "embarrassment." They have to face things like
          "being disowned by their family"
          "fired from their jobs"
          "excommunication from their religious communities", and
          "being a target of physical violence."

          While we should work towards a society where GLBT people don't have to hide - it's still their choice when they come out and to whom.

          You know what this was? This was kid who grew up in a country where being gay is illegal, who found himself living with a gay roommate, was really threatened/offended/bigoted, and decided to "out" the kid to get rid of him. Just spend a few minutes with Google - India's views on homosexuality are amongst the most hostile on the planet.

        • by TFAFalcon (1839122) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:41PM (#39165425)

          So would a company be liable if a person they fire commits suicide? What if the fireing was illegal? Does every crime that ends up 'causing' a person to commit suicide count as a hate crime?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Myopic (18616) *

        "Why should the law or the government get to mandate good manners?"

        Because that's what the law does, of course. What else do you think it does? On the sliding scale of human behavior, from benevolent to benign to malicious, we have a sliding scale of laws from incentives (for benevolent behavior), to no law (for most behavior), to civil fines (for mildly bad behavior), to misdemeanors, to felonies, to capital crimes.

        If you aren't an anarchist, then this should be obvious to you.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:15PM (#39164731) Homepage

      In Scotland we have three possible judgements - Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven.

      The latter can basically be interpreted as "Not guilty - and don't let us catch you at it again!"

    • Whom to blame (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Elixon (832904) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:29PM (#39164845) Homepage Journal

      I am sure that he didn't jump because he was videotaped by one asshole. It was most probably that he feared the reaction of others when it leaks... the reason was the homophobic society rather then one particular guy. I would say that the society's attitude killed him. What would be the label for the society then?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ewwhite (533880)
        Santorum, Bachman, etc...
        • by DesScorp (410532)

          Santorum, Bachman, etc...

          The only blame in this is on the guy that set up the webcam. And that charge should be violation of privacy. Period.
          The very notion of hate crimes is dangerous. It essentially criminalizes feelings. That's one huge Orwellian road to go down, and it opens a Pandora's box of hellish proportions.

          If someone murders, charge them with murder. If someone beats someone else, charge them with assault. Let that be the end of it.

    • We need a new legal category, Asshole. Beyond Guilty or Not Guilty the Asshole standard would be added after guilt or innocence so we could find someone was Not Guilty but still an Asshole.

      But then, all of Congress would be in prison. Somehow, I don't think they'll pass something like that.

  • The "great" thing about hate crimes laws is that you can never have too many of them. There are so many minorities and victimized groups out there, and we can always use the media to create new ones. The perfect way to tack a few extra years onto a prison sentence and fatten the wallets of the prison industry's investors.
    • Re:Hate crimes... (Score:4, Informative)

      by thesandtiger (819476) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @05:13PM (#39166501)

      If you actually knew what the hell you were talking about, you would know that even members of a majority class can also be considered victims of hate crimes.

      If a black, lesbian, muslim woman murders a white, straight, christian man and makes it clear that she is doing it because her victim is white/straight/christian/male, that's a hate crime.

      See, the reason hate crimes are considered aggravated offenses is because their intent is to instil fear in the entire class of people they target in order to have an adverse affect on that entire class of people.

      So, you're entirely wrong about how hate crimes work - you only need one definition to cover any potential class of victim because potentially anyone can be a victim of a hate crime.

      Now let's talk about why you're wrong about how hate crimes as you imagine them to be are the perfect way to tack a few extra years onto prison sentences:

      What's the conviction rate for offenders of color vs. white offenders? What's the average sentence length, by conviction type, for both offenders of color and white offenders? In your fantasy world, it's only minorities and victimized groups who are able to be victims of hate crimes, and so, according to your theory, we should see sentence lengths for white offenders be higher than for offenders of color for the same offense (if it's so "easy" to tack on and if the overriding goal is to "tack a few extra years onto a prison sentence"), and possibly higher rates of conviction of white offenders.

      Yet we don't. What we see are that defendants of color are vastly more likely to be convicted, and when convicted, offenders of color are given typically longer sentences. When adjusted for other factors - usually economic - the gap is slightly lessened but still quite present.

      So, you're wrong about the intent and effect of hate crimes, too. Everything in your post is incorrect.

      Perhaps you'll take this as an opportunity to re-examine your views on the subject and see if they match up with actual reality rather than what you imagine reality is.

      Actually, you're right about one thing in your post - for-profit prisons are an abomination and should not be allowed in a society that considers itself civilized. There should never be a profit motive for subverting justice.

  • Somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bytesex (112972) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:51PM (#39164511) Homepage

    I don't think that the action (suicide) is warranted by the crime (published observation). Don't get me wrong - it's a totally creepy thing to do, and it's not up to me to judge what motivates anyone, but if *that's* what it takes for you to commit suicide, well, then you've got other problems ahead of you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by metlin (258108)

      Indeed. Let's be honest -- most of us have done immature and "jerk"-ish things as teenagers. To be honest, I was perhaps a bit of an ass in school and college.

      Now, looking back, while that may certainly have been reprehensible, I would have been appalled if my actions were to push someone over the brink.

      I feel bad for the kid who committed suicide, but it sounds like he had other problems, and this was just one of the factors (one of the proverbial straws, perhaps).

      Reading some of the IMs, it sounds like Dh

    • by Myopic (18616) *

      Most of us agree that suicide is rarely warranted by any but the most extreme circumstances. Of course, suicide is especially terrible because it is obviously unwarranted, from the viewpoint of those of us who aren't suicidal. I think that's the crux of the issue: some people taunt and bully the suicidal, because they don't share the human empathy the rest of us feel for that kind of person. Thus, to drive a suicidal person to suicide is so disgusting, that we have crimes for it.

  • I've read a few articles about this, and it's clear that Ravi did invade upon Tyler's privacy, and should be punished for it. But I haven't seen any evidence presented that he bullied or intimidated Tyler, let alone did so for homophobic reasons. Either the prosecution is saving it for the trial, or the DA is trying to make an example with bullshit charges (probably to look tough on cyberbulling leading up to an election year).

    • by russotto (537200)

      Yeah, that's my take on it too; the invasion of privacy charges ought to be a slam-dunk, but the bias intimidation charges are there only because Tyler killed himself and Something Must Be Done.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:03PM (#39164611)
      Knowing the US society at large is still quite homophobic, at least to a great part, do you REALLY think that outting a male making out with anotehr male has no homophobic connotation ? It would have gone nowwhere if it was two hetero, and chance is that the guy would not have published it or the hetere male would simply have garnered brownie point. But you have to be utterly blind to not see that outting homo male , was done with the intention of damage. It usually *always* is.
    • by C0R1D4N (970153) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:07PM (#39164651)
      Pretty certain when he put the stream up he said something like "the faggot is doing it again" his motive was well established.

      Also he asked fora new roommate cuz he didnt wanna room with a gay
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:58PM (#39164565) Journal

    18 years old != "boy", except in the colloquial sense.

  • Wrong questions.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pablo_max (626328) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:12PM (#39164703)

    I cannot dispute that this guy is a complete asshole and should certainly be punished in someway. Deported at a minimum. Not so sure about prison though. I have a hard time believing he envisioned the room mate killing himself. Either way, he gets to live with that.

    For me, the real question is fundamental. Why, in the modern "free" world does being outed as a homosexual cause one to prefer suicide rather than live with the shame?
    As a society, would it not be better to address such a fundamental social problem than to simply treat the symptoms?

    • by sphealey (2855)

      === For me, the real question is fundamental. Why, in the modern "free" world does being outed as a homosexual cause one to prefer suicide rather than live with the shame?
      As a society, would it not be better to address such a fundamental social problem than to simply treat the symptoms? ===

      You are aware that Rick Santorum has a significant chance of being nominated for President by a major political party in the United States, and thus given the affect of random events such as blips in the economy or oil pr

    • by bieber (998013) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:06PM (#39165175)
      Regardless of the outcome, I think secretly recording and broadcasting someone else's sexual activities should absolutely get you jailtime. It's difficult to even imagine a worse violation of privacy.
  • by ewwhite (533880) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:23PM (#39164817) Homepage
    I've followed this case with interest mainly because it seemed to be a perfect storm. The timing coincided with highly-publicized teen suicides and increased focus on (cyber) bullying. The initial media reports implied the existence of a "sex tape", an outing and broadcast video. There was a terse suicide status update posted on Facebook. It tapped into people's fears about and unfamiliarity with technology. The mystery surrounding the older hookup, M.B. (that part of the story really didn't seem to be examined) Perhaps the story resonated with me because I remember pranks like this in my college years... It's interesting to see lives ruined today over something I would have potentially done or experienced when I was younger.

    Reading through the New Yorker article and other accounts since the incident, it seems that Dharun Ravi's actions and tone were consistent with how kids interact with each other these days. Being jackasses online, boasting to his peers and just juvenile behavior. But isn't that reflected in popular culture (Reality TV, Tosh.0, TMZ, etc.)? He and Tyler did not communicate well, and I think those soft-skills are missing among today's youth. In a world of tweets, Facebook, blogs and other online communities, we also leave quite a trail... Maybe that's the biggest lesson here. Neither of them seemed to have a filter. Unprotected Twitter accounts, posting openly in webcam/porn/sex communities, bringing an older hookup back to the dorm... I think there needs to be more education about maintaining your online identity.

    As to the case, it seems as though Tyler was troubled long before college. There was a mention of his fascination with the G.W. Bridge, as well as issues coming from a conservative family life. Maybe Ravi's actions had no influence on Clementi's suicide. There's a bit of immaturity on both sides as well. I think "sexiling" your roommate multiple times so early in the school year, is extremely disrespectful. That goes regardless of sexual orientation. I had roommates in college who brought questionable partners home for hookups. But we at least had an understanding, and it was certainly after we had a chance to get to know one another. But maybe Tyler was experimenting and taking advantage of his relative freedom? There's no harm in that, but it illustrates more about his home and family life than anything else.

    The webcam angle also seems overblown. Dharun was most-likely venting about being booted from the room, but relishing the fact that the drama provided a attention/bragging opportunity. He may have also been trying to demonstrate his tech-prowess. But as the New Yorker article referenced, there was "no posting, no observed sex, and no closet."

    Homophobic? Hate crime? I don't think so. I just think there was an extreme lack of respect and understanding between the two. But the case has been politicized and we'll have to see how it plays out...

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