Rutgers trial: When a prank becomes a crime

Dharun Ravi was found of violation of privacy and anti-gay intimidation.

In prison, Dharun Ravi will learn what it’s like to live without privacy, said Andrea Peyser in the New York Post. The former Rutgers University student, 20, was found guilty last week of violation of privacy and anti-gay intimidation—a hate crime in New Jersey—for using a webcam to spy on his roommate making out with another man. Ravi sent out derisive Twitter messages describing his roommate, Tyler Clementi, “kissing a dude,” and invited other students to watch the next encounter. After realizing that Ravi was “outing” him, Clementi, a quiet and shy 18-year-old, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Ravi now faces up to 10 years in jail and deportation to his native India, a suitable punishment for turning “Clementi’s short life into a peep-show spectacle.” This “seminal” verdict could help save other Clementis from online torture, said the Camden, N.J., Courier-Post in an editorial. Maybe now other young people will realize just how dangerous it is to use digital technology and social media “to degrade and shame their peers.”

“What Ravi did was creepy and childish,” said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. But lascivious pranks are common in freshman dorms, and it seems likely that Ravi would have pulled the same stunt if Clementi had brought home “an extremely obese or particularly unattractive woman.” Of course, Ravi wouldn’t be facing such a long jail sentence if he’d tormented a heterosexual roommate, said Tish Durkin in New Jersey’s hate-crime law codifies the idea that some human lives are worth more than others. “How loopy is that logic?” Does a maniac who opens fire in a mall deserve less jail time than a maniac who shoots up a gay club? Ravi deserved to be prosecuted for spying on Clementi, but a 10-year jail sentence would be “absurd.”

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