Saturday, March 17, 2012

Justice for Tyler Clementi

Tyler Clementi was a freshman at Rutger’s University in New Jersey and jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. It’s been big news here every day since it happened. Why did it happen? What made this young man take his own life? If you aren’t familiar with the story, Tyler was gay and had an intimate encounter with another man in his dorm room. Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, thought it would be a good idea to set up a webcam to record the encounter, without Tyler’s knowledge. Then Ravi texted and tweeted other students to tell them to watch. When Tyler discovered what had happened, he was so distraught and humiliated, that he took his own life.

Tyler was a talented violinist. He had just told his parents that he was gay only a few days before attending Rutgers. His father was supported, his mother very disappointed and withdrew from him. Before Tyler even got to campus, his roommate, Ravi, had been doing searches on him online to see who he was. He said Tyler appeared to be gay, socially inept and poor. When Tyler and Ravi moved in together, Ravi texted friends that Tyler was shy and awkward. Tyler texted Ravi about using their room on a couple of nights in September. Ravi witnessed Tyler with an older man and decided to set up his webcam before leaving the room. The camera was angled to view the area of the room where the bed was. Ravi recorded Tyler kissing a man on that occasion and Tyler complained to his resident assistant about the invasion of privacy. He wanted a new room with a different roommate. Tyler also made complaints to others, but nothing was done. Then, Ravi’s recording of the second sexual encounter, was more than Tyler could stand. At the time Tyler was at the George Washington Bridge, Ravi had sent him an apology message…too little too late.

Ravi was arrested and prosecuted for many counts concerning this incident. The dozen or so counts include: invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and evidence tampering. The trial concluded yesterday with a guilty verdict. He will be sentenced in May to a number of years in prison and possible deportation to India. That’s what comes from harassing, humiliating, and driving a sensitive young gay man to his death.

If Tyler hadn’t taken his life, maybe Ravi would have went on to finish his education and have a career here in the United States. Maybe he would have be reprimanded by Rutgers for his actions, maybe not. In other words, Ravi wouldn’t have suffered any type of punishment really had Tyler just complained. Tyler, on the other hand, would have had to finish his education with a cloud over his head, not knowing how many students viewed Ravi’s handiwork or who they were. But, Tyler did take his life. That’s what brought all the attention to this incident. That’s what raise the concerns over the seriousness of this offense. It seems someone always has to die to shine a spotlight on many crimes that society wants to sweep under the rug. How many young gay people have to kill themselves before something is done? Tyler complained after Ravi’s first recording. There should have been swift and immediate action taken. Ravi should have been sanctioned by the school or maybe expelled, and maybe the second incident would never have happened. But no, it wasn’t taken seriously, giving Ravi another opportunity to record and publicize an even more intimate encounter for the sake of humiliating his roommate all over campus, and causing Tyler to take his own life.

Maybe Ravi thought of it as a kind of practical joke at the time? I can’t imagine what was going through his head. I’m sure he got a thrill out of it and a few laughs too. But, he isn’t laughing now and he won’t be laughing for a long time. He basically threw his own life away with his hateful actions. There goes his education and career, his life here in America, his and his parent’s dreams for him shattered. This act will follow him the rest of his life. He is going to be punished with jail time and possible deportation.  And, he can go on living with the thought that his intolerance cost a young man his life. I can’t imagine having to live with that.

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