Monday, March 19, 2012

The Rutgers webcam case and "hate crimes"

There's a verdict in the case of the Rutgers University student who surreptitiously recorded his roommate having gay sex. The roommate committed suicide shortly thereafter.

Former Rutgers student convicted in webcam case

By GEOFF MULVIHILL | Associated Press – 19 hrs ago

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's love life was convicted of invasion of privacy and anti-gay intimidation Friday in a case that exploded into the headlines when the victim threw himself to his death off a bridge.

Dharun Ravi, 20, shook his head slightly after hearing the guilty verdicts on all 15 counts against him.

He could get several years in prison — and could be deported to his native India, even though he has lived legally in the U.S. since he was a little boy — for an act that cast a spotlight on teen suicide and anti-gay bullying and illustrated the Internet's potential for tormenting others.

Prosecutors said Ravi set up a webcam in his dorm room in September 2010 and captured roommate Tyler Clementi kissing another man, then tweeted about it and excitedly tried to catchClementi in the act again two days later. A half-dozen students were believed to have seen the live video of the kissing.

Within days, Clementi realized he had been watched and leaped from the George Washington Bridge after posting one last status update on Facebook: "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."

Ravi's lawyer argued that the college freshman was not motivated by any hostility toward gays and that his actions were just those of an immature "kid."

The defense also contended Ravi initially set up the camera because he was afraid Clementi's older, "sketchy"-looking visitor might steal his belongings.

The jury found Ravi not guilty on some subparts of some of the charges, but guilty of all 15 counts as a whole.
Ravi's recording of his roommate's tryst is reprehensible. It was a cruel disrespectful invasion of privacy. Expulsion from school, civil litigation, even prosecution for illegal surveillance might be appropriate.

But I don't agree with the "hate crime" prosecution. Clementi's tragic suicide raised the ante on Ravi's nasty invasion of his roommate's privacy, but I think it is unfair to implicitly punish Ravi for Clementi's death. Clementi committed a horrendously irrational act. His anguish at being recorded having sex is understandable, but suicide is another matter, and I do not believe it is right to hold Ravi responsible for that.

Clementi had already "come out of the closet" to his family and he was openly gay. The revelation of his homosexuality was not the motive for his suicide. He had written about his despondency before the webcam incident. Obviously Clementi was upset at being recorded, and rightfully so, but it is difficult to assign that as a rational motive for jumping off a bridge. Holding Ravi responsible in court for Clementi's tragic and irrational decision to kill himself is unfair. Ravi invaded Clementi's privacy and acted with disturbing callousness. But he did not kill Clementi.

I have great concern about "hate crime" laws. All crimes involve malice on the part of the perpetrator, and one can make an argument that racial/sexual bias makes the crime more egregious. But the purpose for hate crime legislation seems to be to single out certain favored groups for legal privilege and other groups for legal disadvantage. There is ample hate among all people who victimize others. Is a mugging of a white victim by a black assailant a hate crime? Is disruption of a Catholic mass by gay protesters a hate crime? Is vandalism by Occupy protestors against bankers a hate crime? They almost certainly won't be prosecuted as such, yet the racial and religious and sexual and political differences may well have played a substantial role in the acts.

The law should apply equally to all, and we should be very careful when we single out certain people for more rigorous prosecution or certain people for more rigorous protection because of their opinions or sexual orientation or race. Equal protection of the law requires that "hate" of all kinds be prosecuted equally.

Unequal prosecution of hate crimes is itself a form of hate.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Well said, Trish. Sorry the kid killed himself but only a fool could fail to see this as a tragedy being exploited. When things like this happen, the lavender crowd sees it as an opportunity.

    Ever hear of Jess Kilgore? He was a Christian student who went college and was assigned "the God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. The book basically turned him into an atheist. Dawkins succeeded in persuading him that God is dead, or never was, or whatever. Jesse was a wreck and killed himself.

    And still I don't think it's Richard Dawkins' fault, or the fault of the professor who assigned the book. They had no way of knowing that he would react that way, just the same way that Tyler Clementi's roommate had no idea that Tyler would kill himself.

    The media made a huge deal out of Jesse Kilgore too. Well, no. They didn't.

    The Torch

  3. Hate crimes are bias motivated crimes that target members of a particular social group. Because hate crimes target not only individuals, but groups, all members of the targeted group are victimized. Like terrorism, hate crimes do societal harm well beyond the harm done to the victims and their loved ones.

    Asking “Is a mugging of a white victim by a black assailant a hate crime?” reveals your lack of understanding. If you had a clue you’d know the answer depends on the motivation of the assailant.

    Hate crime laws protect Christians against hate crimes just as much as any other group, but the fact is that in our predominantly Christian nation Christians are far more likely to commit hate crimes than be the victim of hate crimes. FBI hate crime statistics for 2008 show that zero Americans where killed for being Christian, one for being black, one for being Hispanic, and seven for being gay. Again in 2008, there where 47 aggravated assaults classified as motivated by religion, one against a catholic, three against Protestants, and the rest against Jews and Muslims, but their where 232 aggravated assaults against gay people. Considering the sizes of the Christian and Gay populations, you are well over 100 times more likely to be assaulted for being gay than for being Christian.

    Christians celebrate being martyrs, but the fact is that the incidents of hate crimes against them are an order of magnitude fewer that the incidents of hate crimes they commit. It’s no wonder they are against hate crime laws.


    1. There you go, KW, trying to confuse Egnor with facts again.

      Egnor is not interested in facts, except those facts that support his case. All others can be egnored. FBI statistics? Biased. Global warming statistics? A hoax.

      That is the essence of the stupidity that is Egnorance.

  4. "It was a cruel disrespectful invasion of privacy. Expulsion from school, civil litigation, even prosecution for illegal surveillance might be appropriate."

    Prosecution for illegal surveillance (i.e. invasion of privacy) is exactly what he was prosecuted for. For a list of the fifteen counts, go here:

    Counts 1, 3, 5, and 7 all have to do with invasion of privacy while counts 9-15 involve covering up evidence; he was guilty on all of these counts. Counts 2, 4, 6, and 8 are the hate crime counts which could be considered only if Ravi was found guilty on the previous invasion of privacy charges. These were the only counts on which he was partially acquitted.

    None of the counts pertain to Clementi's suicide, though I don't doubt it played a role in jury deliberations. However, even if Clementi had not succeeded in committing suicide Ravi could have been tried and convicted in exactly the same manner and with the same evidence.


    1. @L:

      Ravi was convicted on some of the hate crime counts, which is the topic of this thread.

      Do you have a point to make?

    2. "Do you have a point to make?"

      That when you say:

      "...I do not believe it is right to hold Ravi responsible for (Clementi's suicide)."

      I, and the prosecution, agree with you. You are implying that Ravi was charged directly in the matter of suicide. It was a false impression and occupied half of your commentary. As for the hate crime counts (which make up a minority of the counts, could only be considered upon conviction of the invasion of privacy counts, and on which he was partially acquitted) that makes up the other half of your commentary and I wasn't going to comment on it.

      But since you brought it up, yes whites, Catholics, and heterosexuals can be victims of hate crimes, as one can see by looking at the FBI report for 2010 (the most recent available):

      Or this from the SPLC:

      You seem to reiterate several myths about hate crime legislation, some of which KW has already pointed out. But, if you want to have it spelled out for you again, look here (pdf warning):

      Just trying to keep you honest.


    3. Strange that I posted a response and it disappeared an hour later. Hope this doesn’t result in a double post.

      ”Do you have a point to make?”

      That when you write

      “… I do not believe it is right to hold Ravi responsible for that [Clementi’s suicide].”

      you, I, and the prosecution are in agreement. None of the counts concerned Clementi’s suicide and he was not held legally responsible for it. You devoted half of your commentary to it, which makes it a topic of this thread. So, I believe it merited some fact checking, and the facts do not check out in your favour. As to the other half of your commentary on hate crimes, I didn’t want to say anything on the subject.

      But since you brought it up, yes whites, Catholics and heterosexuals can be victims of hate crimes, as documented by the FBI:

      The SPLC has at least one article on this issue:

      Your comments suggest that you have fallen victim to some of the common myths and misconceptions about bias crimes. KW pointed this out, but if you need more clarification you can read this (PDF warning):

      Just trying to keep you honest.


    4. @L:

      Sorry about the missing comment. The spam filter grabbed it.

      I freed it.

  5. Repeat question for all:

    Was 9-11 a hate crime?

  6. @mregnor
    Repeat question for all: Was 9-11 a hate crime?
    You bet it was.

  7. Well well... we agree on something, Michael.

    I am no fan of "hate crime" penalties or legislation. A crime is a crime - we punish actions, not beliefs.

    That said, this is a difficult issue. Motivations do enter into sentencing. A man cutting trees whose chainsaw bucks and kills his neighbor has achieved the same result as a drunken idiot who kills somebody while juggling chainsaws in a crowded room, but their punishments will be very different.

    But I think reckless endangerment is reckless endangerment - whether the action is motivated by hatred of gays or just by mean-spirited foolishness. The race or gender or sexual preference of the victim should not be a factor in sentencing.

    Gosh - I'm agreeing with you on something. I wonder if they're enjoying the skiing down in Hell.

  8. @RickK:

    I agree. (!). I do think that motivation is a factor in culpability. Illegally painting a flower on a synagogue is less of a crime than painting a swastika. Assaulting or killing someone is even more egregious if the killing is done for racial or other sectarian reasons.

    But we have to be very careful to avoid the concept of "group crime"-- giving special status to victims or perpetrators because of racial, religious, etc affiliations.

    Attributing crimes to groups is a hallmark of totalitarian systems.

    Culpability and victimhood are individual issues.

  9. Here is the problem I see with hate crime laws.
    It is one thing to use 'hatred' as an aggravating factor (motivation) in a clear cut case, it is another to apply these laws broadly.
    We have had 'hate crimes' on the books for years in Canada, and we are now about to repeal that act for a very specific reason: It is/has been used to throttle free speech.
    When applied to mediums such as websites, books, and the like and the rulings made by 'Human Rights Councils' (the next stop on this slippery slope) you will find that SELF CENSORSHIP becomes a very real issue. Not only are legitimate gripes glossed over by politically motivated tribunals, but normal people will avoid expressing their ideas just in case they are misconstrued as 'hate' and they become black listed. This has a profound consequence of limiting debate, stifling creativity, and worst of all silencing critics of government policy.
    It also leads to obvious double standards that benefit fringe/lobby groups who manipulate the tribunal system.
    I am ALL for treating obvious acts of hatred with the legal contempt they deserve - but I am staunchly against the use of the concept to silence or control public opinion.
    An aggravated offence is one thing, THOUGHT CRIME is another.
    My two cents.

    1. As for this kids suicide... All such loss of life is tragic. It is a terrible shame he did not really understand the gravity of his actions.
      But the crime in that is his own.
      The webcam porno stuff is another matter. I do not see how this would be any different than doing the same to Clementi if he had been with girls in his room.
      It is sneaky, nasty stuff on the part of Ravi. He had means to recourse, and if they failed he could have contacted the media and made a complaint about 'promiscuity' in his dorm and the lack of effort to curb it by the school. ABOVE board, he could have SHAMED the school into action. A hypothetical: If he had done as I suggested, and the school had censured Clementi for his behaviour, would the SCHOOL have been guilty of 'hate crimes'? The media?
      What Ravi chose to do was illegal and immoral. He should be punished for THAT, not some dreamt up charge of hatred. Did he dislike gays? Not at issue. He did not like sex acts in his room, and his means to deal with it was illegal and inappropriate...and that's all. He did not hang Clementi or throw him from the bridge. Clementi did that to himself.
      Was the webcam thing 'the straw that broke the camel's back'? Maybe. But what of all the other 'straws'? Plenty of people have been humiliated in such a manner, are they all victims of 'hate'?
      I see this as a misuse of any such legislation.

  10. @mregnor
    Repeat question for all: Was 9-11 a hate crime?

    I suppose you could call it that.
    It surely was a hateful act.
    But I see it as more of a 'war crime' or conspiracy to commit mass murder by a paramilitary group.
    I don't see the perpetrators or organizers of such an attack as deserving of a civilian trail.