Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi, age 20, was found guilty yesterday of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation against his former roommate, Tyler Clementi. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010 after Ravi used his computer to spy on as well as encourage others to watch Clementi having intimate relations with another man.
According to The New York Times, Ravi “has surrendered his passport” and “prosecutors said he could face possible deportation to his native India, but that decision would be left to immigration officials.” Ravi will be sentenced May 21. This is the first significant case in which social media and web technology has played a role in convicting someone of bias intimidation. The Times posits that this verdict is “poised to broaden the definition of (bias intimidation) in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.”
Ravi was also found guilty of “lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness and tampering with evidence after he tried to cover up Twitter and text messages inviting others to join in the viewing.” In my view, Ravi clearly knew that what he had done was wrong – a punishable offense that was the last straw in the life of a troubled young man – not just “simple boorish behavior” (as the Times claims Ravi’s lawyer described it).
What saddens me most about this case is the rationale used to defend Ravi’s behavior toward Clementi in the hopes of avoiding a bias intimidation conviction. Ravi’s lawyers “argued that he was “a kid” with little experience of homosexuality who had stumbled into a situation that scared him.” Fine. Be scared of a homo if that’s how you feel. Sad, but sure. Okay. I’ll go with it. But don’t tell me an appropriate reaction to being scared of someone means obsessively tweeting about them and encouraging other people to violate their privacy during an intimate moment. When people are scared, they run. They don’t creep ever and ever closer. I’m so happy the jury was able to see that.
During a brief statement after the trial’s conclusion, Tyler’s father, Joe Clementi, shared this sentiment directed toward middle and high school students:
You’re going to meet a lot of people in your lifetime. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you have to work against them. When you see somebody doing something wrong, tell them: ‘That’s not right. Stop it.’ The change you want to see in the world begins with you.
Ravi’s lawyer plans to appeal the verdict. But juror Bruno Ferreira says he’s happy with the decision the jury made. He told the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “Some people might believe that he’s not or that he’s guilty. But at the same time, I’ve learned in this process, that if you’re not in the courtroom, you won’t know the real details.”