My brother committed suicide. I miss him terribly, and think of him often, particularly when I see a martial arts film (he was a Black Belt,) walk down South Street (one of his favorite haunts) or read about St. Joe’s Prep (his alma mater.) He was an amazing person, unique and precious, and his loss is immeasurable.
I’m sure the family of Tyler Clementi feels the same way about their beloved son. And yet, Tyler’s suicide became a cause célèbre because some people think making political points is more important than doing justice. And that makes me very, very angry.
Suicide is not a political act. It is an act of desperation, of impulsivity, of short sightedness and, sometimes, of selfishness. But no one forces you to take your life. Whatever demons haunt us, they are our own and no one else bears the blame for our decision to leave this world deliberately, and prematurely.
The only reason that Dharum Ravi was charged with a hate crime was because Tyler Clementi was gay. The only reason this case made it to a courtroom was because Tyler Clementi chose to jump off of a bridge to ease whatever pain he felt. The fact that his roommate invaded his privacy and then tried to cover up that foolish, insensitive act is something the law should avenge.
But we all know that Ravi was put on trial because he happened to tread on dangerous ground, where outrage, special interest and political power make unacceptable ‘thoughts’ criminal . Whenever it looks as if someone has violated the unspoken societal contract to ‘be nice’ and ‘be tolerant’ to certain protected groups, we rush to make sure perpetrator pays double for his sins.
Ravi is not a nice person. And he violated someone’s privacy, with tragic and unforeseeable consequences. But to find him guilty of a hate crime, particularly where the jury had the gall to say he had no ‘intent’ to harm based on his alleged bigotry but should still be held guilty of a bias crime because his ‘victim’ subjectively felt persecuted, is dangerous. And fortunately for Ravi, 100% appealable.
Clementi’s death was a tragedy. So was my brother’s. But this prosecution was another type of theater altogether: farce.