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Busch Campus suicide catalyzer indicted

Between Fall 1997 and Fall 2001, I lived in a dormitory at the Busch Campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey - in greater New Brunswick.

That's where an act that is effectively a murder took place in September 2010. Chances are nonzero that the key events have occurred in the same apartment where I lived. What happened?



These two folks, Mr Dharun Ravi and Ms Molly Wei, had quite some fun to monitor their gay roommate, music student Tyler Clementi.




On September 19th, Mr Dharun Ravi of Plainsboro streamed the video with a sexual encounter of Mr Clementi with another man, M.B. - using Twitter as a tool to promote the show. Even though a kiss could have been the only thing seen on the "live show", Mr Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge to the Hudson River on September 22th - using Facebook to inform his friends and "friends" about his last decision.



Mr Tyler Clementi, the gay victim

The New York Times just reported that Mr Ravi has been indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on hate-crime charges for his usage of the webcam which exposes him to a 5-10 years in prison.

Ms Molly Wei of Princeton who has arguably been as important a part of the "project" as Mr Dharun Ravi will probably escape with no punishment whatsoever. It is pretty obvious from the text that she transferred all her guilt to Mr Dharun Ravi and the jury has bought it. However, her case remains active.

I find Mr Ravi's behavior outrageous. He has probably been a fanatical homophobe. However, the situation has transformed a homophobe to a de facto murderer. Now, it is obvious that people who destroy other people's lives in this way have to be severely punished. The only question is whether the punishment should be distributed among all the bullies, including those whose victims don't commit suicide (or don't get comparably far in their discomfort), or whether only the "unlucky" bullies who effectively kill someone else should be charged with these big charges.

But much more generally: what Mr Tyler Clementi did was totally legal, so any behavior that brings a huge discomfort to such a young man is immoral and should be classified as a crime. Technically, Mr Ravi has "only" violated Mr Clementi's privacy - except that such violations have repercussions, as this sad example clearly demonstrates. These repercussions - the actual ones and maybe even the potential ones - should be included to the juries' decisions.



This was a very sad story. To improve your mood, a new event from the world of "crime" that took place today and that is amusing.



Just as the Hungarian president was beginning his visit to the Prague Castle, two police women from the Republic of Chile arrested Czech President Václav Klaus for his theft of the pen. They announced the decision in Spanish and Czech. However, both cops were rather quickly taken into custody by two Czech cops who happened to be real. ;-)

By the way, Jay Leno has noticed (click) that the main thief during the event was not Prof Klaus but actually his Chilean counterpart who stole... almost everything.

Marilyn Monroe has already paid tribute to Prof Klaus, too. Hollywood is preparing a new movie about Indiana Klaus and the pen of Chile. I hope you don't believe it is just a parody.

Well, some people can't distinguish reality from parodies. Slovak TV JOJ has informed its viewers that Klaus will begin to medically cure his kleptomania this month. When Ban-Ki-Moon visited Prague, they had to take his credit cards from the pockets because it would be painful if those disappeared. And so on. It turned out that TV JOJ has simply bought a story from a fun portion of an online Czech magazine Reflex - without realizing that it's a hoax! ;-)

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reader fche said...

"any behavior that brings a huge discomfort to such a young man is immoral and should be classified as a crime."

Criminalizing of "imparting huge discomfort" may easily be worse than the disease (some people overreacting to huge discomfort).


reader Steven Colyer said...

Good job, Lubos. I have 2 students at Rutgers, a school I have 2 degrees from (BSME and MBA) myself, and a school with outstanding high quality education.

Yes, this is very much a privacy issue, the gay thing is fluff. We were all college freshman once, and this unfortunate event went down during the 3rd week of the fall semester, when people are just getting to know each other, but there is such a thing as "proper behavior." Dhavi didn't exercise that, not Wei, so that's why they are where they are.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear fche, I agree with you. Criminalizing discomfort making may be worse than the disease itself. And yes, some people, including this gay student, may be overreacting.

However, it's a subtle question whose responsibility it should be to think about the overreactions. Imagine that someone (Howard Wolowitz?) has an allergy - e.g. to peanuts. He overreacts to peanuts. Someone deliberately gives him lots of peanuts and kills him.

Now, is it legitimate to knowingly give peanuts to such a person and blame the death on the victim's overreaction? ;-) With this logic, you could also say that it's OK to kill children with a small knife because every proper complete human should survive stabbing by a 1 inch knife.

When someone starts to invade another person's body - and, more generally, another person's privacy - he must be made at least partly responsible for the consequences. If the previous sentence were completely denied, it would always be possible to design a murder in such a way that the murderer would be innocent.

I don't know any objective algorithm to calculate the guilt in such cases but I am sure that the guilt can't be strictly zero for the bad outcomes that indirectly result from acts done against a sensitive subject.


reader george said...

I think these sorts of things are generally settled in civil courts rather than criminal courts in the US. In cases where the offender is negligent or careless and causes a death we have manslaughter statutes in the criminal code but I am not sure this rises to that threshold. It was not inevitable that the unfortunate student would die. That was a choice he made himself.

You can't have a standard of behavior set by the most unstable members of a society. Say for instance you have an argument with your girlfriend and you say some terribly hurtful things which leads her to kill herself. Do you really want to criminalize such situations?

I think this parallel is much more on point than the analogy of a known medical condition since the latter would imply that homosexuals are known to be unstable and prone to suicide. I know that is not what you meant but the analogy implies a certainty of outcome which is simply not there in this case. I would venture that most gays in this person's situation would survive the ordeal and live to extract a great sum of money from the offenders.

The issue of the violation of privacy is something that is becoming much more common as the generation coming along now has much less respect for, or understanding of privacy. They broadcast every stray thought they have in their heads on twitter or Facebook etc... It may even be inconceivable to some of them that you could have a private life or that no one really cares what level they have achieved on World or Warcraft or that they are currently in a relationship with a Furry ;o)

I will not name the university where I graduated but recently one of the female athletes there was filmed by one of her sexual partners while she was engaged in amorous oral conduct with him. He then put the video on the web without her knowledge or consent. Now she has quit her sport and will change schools to pursue a medical degree. Not an altogether terrible outcome but if she felt she could no longer stay on campus or lost her desire to compete in public as a result of this incident then it is a great tragedy.

I think this sort of thing will be more and more common as the technology proliferates to make video instantly available to millions. All it takes is one moment of poor judgment on the part of a young person and a life can be ruined. And if there is one thing young people have a surfeit of it is bad judgment.