I meant to say something about this on Friday, when I first heard the story on NPR, coming home from work. But it was DW's 40th Birthday, so... yeah, going out to dinner took precedence. Then I had to work Saturday, and for most of the day today... Well, I got my grass-seed planted. Which is weird, considering it's mid-March, and I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt. We'll see how that goes. And the rest of the day... what can I say? It was 'bonus x.p. weekend', I had to play at least a little. ;)
So... If you're interested, I'm sure some of you have heard by now about the conviction of Dharun Ravi for, among other things, invasion of privacy and commission of a hate crime. This is the student who, in late 2010, used a web cam to spy on, and broadcast the romantic activities of, his gay roommate. In September of that year, his roommate killed himself, by jumping of the George Washington Bridge. It should come as little surprise to many of my readers that I was happy to hear about the verdict.
The reason I wanted to write something about this is that, in my opinion, it shows the true value of having hate crime laws in the first place. There is no question that privacy was invaded. And regardless of the victim, or the motivation for doing this, most of us would be angry enough about that. Put aside for the moment that the victim was gay. Imagine it was yourself, or your son or daughter, being filmed without their knowledge. Having sex, maybe, or masturbating, or maybe just having a good long cry at the end of a stressful day. I'm sure we can all sympathize with the anger that this would evoke, our private moments, stolen from us and broadcast for someone else's amusement.
But there was MORE to this. A young man DIED. And while it would be absurdly presumptuous of me to say that the spying caused the suicide - and indeed, I don't believe it truly did - likewise I cannot accept that it didn't play somea role in it. I mean, sure the young man was very likely already suicidal. He was likely struggling to come to grips with his sexuality, he was in college with, apparently, few friends. That's a tough situation in and of itself. He may very well have been clinically depressed. (OK, yeah, duh, he KILLED HIMSELF, so OBVIOUSLY...) But that's just it: It's hardly the act of a law abiding citizen to mock and harass and victimize a person on the brink of suicide. Perhaps we're not required to help people by law. But this was more than a mere invasion of privacy. There is a death to account for here, and this man played some role in it that cannot be denied.
So what to do?
Well... the hate crime allows the judge to add up to five more years to the sentence, by adding on another conviction. Without this, we're left with either nothing - just the invasion of privacy, which to me seems woefully inadequate - or upping the charge to something like manslaughter or felony murder (both of which carry a potential life sentence) which, it might surprise some of you to hear me say, I think would be absurdly overkill. Ravi did NOT intend to KILL this young man. Of that I have no doubt. This was little more than a stupid college prank, or so he thought. And the role he played in Clementi's death? In the big picture was likely a small and indirect one. But the fact remains that his prank led, in whatever way, to the death of a fellow human being, and one who had done him no harm. He can get up to ten years for this, just for the two primary convictions, and he faces deportation, having been born in India.
And I have almost no opinion about the potential sentence at this point. I don't believe he'll get the full ten years, and part of me wants to say that is still just. Admittedly, part of me wants to see the book thrown at him, but this wasn't a cross-burning or violent type of hate crime. And as for deportation... Meh, we'll see how it goes. Nothing can be done now to bring this young man back. It's just such a shame that someone chooses to act this way, rather than to reach out and try to help someone. If more people did, things like this, and other tragedies that hit closer to home, for me anyway, might never have happened. (It would be so easy for me to hate Seung-Hui Cho, but I can only shake my head, and think that Cho was not so different from Clementi - just another young man who needed help, and did not get it.)
So reach out to your fellow man. Let them know that they are not alone. Such small acts of kindness and consideration and empathy can make such a huge difference in the world. Of course, you'll never SEE that difference, as you'll never know what these small acts may have prevented. But it is so painful to see what happens in their absence.