Something frightening has been happening in New Jersey (and no, Chris Christie hasn’t been tapped to be on the next edition of “Dancing With the Stars.”)
A young man is on trial for being obnoxious. And he can get up to ten years for the ‘crime.’
Of course I’m talking about the Tyler Clementi case, where a gay (and partially-closeted) Rutgers freshman committed suicide when his roommate spied on him electronically during a romantic tryst and then posted comments about it on Twitter.
That roommate, Dharun Ravi has been charged with invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. In addition to spending a decade behind bars, he is also in danger of being deported to India after any sentence is served.
The truly scary part of this whole story is not that Ravi was charged with a crime. Invasion of privacy is a legitimate offense, and from the evidence that’s already in the public record, a conviction is likely under New Jersey law, particularly now that one of the defendant’s partners in crime copped a plea and is a prosecution witness.
No, the aspect of this case that is in many ways grislier than the Saw franchise is the fact that someone could be convicted of being bigoted.
Because that is exactly what is happening in that New Jersey courtroom. The prosecutors may try and prove that a charge of ‘bias’ intimidation is appropriate in this context because Dharun Ravi had made some disparaging comments about gays.
But there is evidence that not only did these comments not bother Clementi, he himself was a bigot. When the victim learned that his Rutgers roommate was Indian, he posted an online comment about Dunkin Donuts. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawkings to get his drift.
More important than the subjective feelings of Clementi and Ravi is the greater implication of this case. If you offend someone by either words or non-aggressive deeds and that person then commits suicide, you are in danger of being charged with that person’s death. True, Ravi has not been accused of killing Clementi. But no one truly believes that this case would have gone to court if the victim had simply punched that obnoxious college bully in the nose, and then went to class.
And, let’s be honest, if Clementi were heterosexual, the word ‘bias’ never would have raised its sorry head.
The only reason that we know the names Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi is because a troubled young man decided to jump off the George Washington Bridge when he thought his personal life was going to be exposed.
As the sister of someone who committed suicide, I grieve for the loss of that precious human life. But do I blame Dharun Ravi?
No. And if he gets convicted for being an asshole, that would really be criminal.