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Dharun Ravi Trial: Hate Crime Or Stupidity? 671

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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  • 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!"

  • 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...

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:31PM (#39164865) Homepage

    There is clear evidence that the political correctness movement of society demands that when something that can be considered to be "hate" it must be so. There is no room for interpretation here - if we are going to criminalize hate then it must be done forcefully and completely with no options for wiggling out through supposed ignorance. This makes for a very uncomfortable legal environment for a lot of people, myself included. I believe the idea of a "hate crime" is nonsense and trying to enhance penalties for ordinary crimes because of "hate" being a factor is a bad idea. This clearly is delving into the area of trying to decide what people are thinking internally and externalizing it in some way. What does it matter what someone is thinking and why should we increase penalties for certain thoughts?

    The legal system should not be considering thoughts but only actions. Unfortunately, that is not the direction we are going.

    In the US today we have "protected classes". These are classes of people that must not be assailed in any way. Women are a protected class and any treatment of them that singles them out because of their gender is illegal today. Similarly, minorities are a protected class in this manner - if you treat an African-American male as an African-American, that is illegal. However, if you treat an African-American male as a male, well, that isn't a protected class. It can get pretty confusing.

    The idea of a protected class apart from others is not how one builds an equal society but one where some are more equal than others. There is no condition that I can agree with that says minorities should receive treatment under the law that is different from anyone else. Especially because they are a member of a minority. The law should be minimizing the fact of their differences from the "rest of us" rather than attempting to maximize the differences.

    It is somewhat an open question how much homosexuals are a protected class. There are some states having laws that offer blanket protected class status to homosexuals and make it illegal to consider sexual orientation in any manner or for any purpose. Other states have less clear laws and there may only be certain situations where sexual orientation is forbidden from being considered. For example, while many would consider it to be inappropriate for a gay male to be teaching a sexual education class to young girls. In some states it is illegal to bar them from this activity whereas in others it may actually be forbidden by law for them to do it. Very confusing, especially when you get into transsexuals. Court cases are beginning to pop up where it starts to become necessary to discuss what sort of anatomy the is present and what sort of anatomy is desired regardless of what is present.

    In the US we are clearly moving into some very interesting territory, one that encompasses the outer edges of what consent can be considered to be. In the US we have been conditioning ourselves to think of unequal power relationships as bad between men and women. But when you get into sexual behaviors where one party is clearly dominant and the other (often permanently) submissive we are supposed to throw all that conditioning away and embrace "the new way". For a lot of people this is very difficult to absorb and they are going to consider unequal power relationships - where one party is clearly in control and the other just has to follow along and do what they are told - as a bad thing. The fact that the US has just gone through, and is still going through, efforts to establish women as equal to men with bra burning, effective birth control and significant changes in the legal framework makes it even more difficult.

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:34PM (#39164899)

    Being an asshole should be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @01:35PM (#39164919) Homepage Journal

    In America, we granted the government some rights a couple hundred years ago. Today, government has forgotten who grants rights to whom. The day of reckoning is coming.

  • 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?

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:40PM (#39165897) Homepage Journal

    There is ZERO evidence that this kid had a general hatred of gays, persecuted gays, or otherwise was involved with "hate" speech of any kind.

    As much as it will piss off the gay community, it IS legal to hate your roommate and to try to embarrass them.

    The end result was sad and deplorable, but it's not the result of a "hate crime."

    Had the roommate been some guy screwing around with this fellow's ex-girlfriend, and had he even posted videos of them on the internet, no one would be calling it a "hate crime."

    The gay community needs to get over themselves. I'm starting to hate the gay community not because they're gay, but because they slam out stupid lawsuits like this that try to paint EVERYTHING as "hate crimes" when they're not. The gay community wanted us out of their bedrooms. Fine. They got their way. Now get the hell out of our court rooms.

  • by SplashMyBandit ( 1543257 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @05:27PM (#39166577)
    Except for religion. The Indians are famous for tolerating just about every fruity religion that has come along. Things are changing though. They are seem to be slowly opening up to accept more than just their strict traditional values - but she's certainly a big country, I'm sure you could find intolerant nutters there if you wanted to.
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @06:15PM (#39166897)

    The whole concept of hate crime is ludicrous. Hate is motive, separate from the crime.

    I see this complaint every time there's a hate crime brought up, but never when people talk about homicide vs murder charges. Why?

  • by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @07:34PM (#39167441)

    They are very tolerant of just about every fruity religion that has come along, but they are highly intolerant of criticism of any other religion.

    India has very strict blasphemy laws. To their credit the blasphemy laws are extremely broad and protect minority and majority religions but by western standards they would be considered an infringement of rights.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:43AM (#39169915) Journal

    He would be facing some pretty minor charges, not a 10 year jail sentence. There was no evidence of any violence or fraud or harrassment by Ravi.

    Steal enough candy bars, and you could rack up enough misdemeanor charges to be put in jail for years, even though the individual acts alone would only carry a small amount of time individually.

    There are no "special circumstances" - there is only "special groups", "protected groups", and "groups that are better" or something. That's not a circumstance. It's special privileges based on discrimination, and it violates equal protection under the law.

    No, it doesn't and this is well established by the courts. If you want to get this tried, then become the victim of a hate crime because you're white/male/christian/whatever, and when they don't push for hate crime charges, THEN you can pull out violations of the the equal protection clause.

    Let me give you an example of how "special circumstances" work. You walk into a barn, and there is a guy there, and you pick up a hammer and beat his head in until he's dead. If you brought the hammer, then it's first degree murder, if you just picked it up, then it's second degree murder. If you killed a police officer, knowing it were a police officer, then it's a special circumstances that in many cases is the only way that the prosecution is allowed to seek the death penalty.

    There are tons of "special circumstances", and people get all hissy about this hate crime stuff, because "zOMGs, teh minorities are getting special privileges!!!" NO! They're NOT! They're getting recognition that some people are willing to commit crimes upon people just because of racism/sexism/homophobia/whatever, and that such behavior is wrong, and deserves to be called out, and punished, while at the same time, we need to recognize that if we're going to punish the behavior, the behavior has to be a crime in the first place.

    If the legislature wanted to pass a "special circumstance" about committing a crime while being an asshole, or something like that, then it would be fine. And recall, hate crime legislation allows for PERCEIVED fitting of a class of people, it does not require that the person actually be part of that class of people, because again: hate crime legislation is not about the victim, it's about the intent of the criminal.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan