Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi

As we mentioned in Friday’s Non-Sequiturs, the legal team of Dharun Ravi has moved to dismiss the criminal charges against Ravi stemming from the suicide of Tyler Clementi. As many of you know, Clementi committed suicide after Ravi streamed video of Clementi hooking up with another guy.

Lawyers to Dharun Ravi discovered comments from Clementi suggesting that Clementi was concerned about his parents’ reaction to his sexual orientation. Other Clementi messages are getting more headlines. According to New York Magazine, Clementi “also made jokes about Ravi’s family, calling them ‘sooo indian / first gen americanish…his rents defs owna dunkin [donuts].’ In other words, typical teen asshole gossip, on both sides.”

Typical is how I’ve been describing Ravi’s behavior from the very beginning. I didn’t need the system digging into the past of a suicide victim to determine whether his roommate “caused” him to take his own life.

But this is what many people wanted. So now that we’re here, I’m wondering if people are happy….

Of course, few would say that they “wanted” the system to mercilessly dig into the private life of a suicide victim. Over on Forbes, Kashmir Hill laments the fact that Clementi’s privacy has been invaded, again:

This is the new world we live in — where everything we do and say and think is captured in a routine way by our daily communications, and archived — potentially forever, unless you’re the type to permanently delete your email. There are no privacy rights for the dead, but this public invasion of Clementi’s candid thoughts and feelings through the casual digital capture of his communications seems as disturbingly voyeuristic as was the watching of his sexual encounter in his dorm room.

Well, if I may quote the great moralist, Walter Sobchak: “This is what happens, Larry.” This is what happens when the system gets involved. This is what happens when we live in a society where teenagers aren’t allowed to act like teenagers without somebody making a criminal case out of it. Nobody wins: it’s a race to name the biggest loser.

Once you accuse somebody of committing a crime against you, the accused is entitled to confront the accuser and reasonably defend himself. Nobody disputes that aspect of our system. Most people agree that it is a strength of our legal system.

And it’s not new. Ask any rape victim what kinds of invasive questions defense attorneys are allowed to ask in the zealous defense of their clients. Ask a corporate whistle-blower when was the last time he worked in an office. Ask somebody who witnesses a mafia hit anything, if you can find them.

To accuse somebody is to put yourself in the spotlight. Thank God that it is like that. We tried it the other way for about four thousand years or so. It didn’t work so well: accusations made in secret based on unknown agendas, no ability to discover exculpatory evidence, secret trials, inquisitions, does any of this ring a bell? It would be barbarous to accuse Dharun Ravi of crimes, yet not allow him to mount this kind of defense.

Are there people out there who are surprised that the defense has taken this turn? I’m not. Where else was this going to go? People are trying to say that Dharun Ravi caused Tyler Clementi to jump off a bridge. Was it not foreseeable that Ravi’s lawyers would find something like this:

Clementi told his family he was gay shortly before leaving for college and received a mixed reaction from his parents. “It’s a good thing dad is ok w/it or I would be in serious trouble/ mom has basically completely rejected me,” Clementi wrote in another instant messaging chat with a friend.

Tyler Clementi

Now that’s an obvious “Plan B” if I ever saw one. Don’t blame Ravi, blame the mom for not accepting her gay son.

Of course, I don’t think anybody should be blamed in this situation. I don’t think it’s anybody’s “fault” that Tyler Clementi made the tragic decision to jump off a bridge. Sometimes, bad things happen. And we can learn from tragedies and try to prevent them from happening again, but we can’t always punish somebody.

But that wasn’t good enough for everybody else, or for the prosecutors in New Jersey. And so here we are, two lives already ruined (three if you count Molly Wei), Tyler Clementi’s reputation now damaged with these latest revelations, and surely his mother about to enjoy a little time in the sun as a poster child for what not to do when your son comes out. And if you think we’ve now reached the depths for how many people will become besmirched in this “quest for justice,” you are a dull fool.

So are you happy? Has all this, and what surely is to come, been worth it somehow? Will the tale of Dharun Ravi stop teenagers from pulling vicious pranks on each other? Will it make the kids be sure to pull those pranks offline so politicians and parents don’t feel powerless against the scary internet?

The system doesn’t much care about your answers to those questions. It has been invoked. Somebody looked in the bathroom mirror and said “criminal charges” three times and now it’s here and it’s going to stab its way to a resolution.

I just hope that maybe the next time a teenager does something stupid, people consider dealing with the bathwater instead of throwing out that baby.

Court Documents Show Tyler Clementi and His Roommate Acted Like Teenagers [New York Magazine]
The Post-Mortem Privacy Invasion of Tyler Clementi [Not-So Private Parts / Forbes]

Earlier: What to Do With Tyler Clementi’s Roommate
Tyler Clementi’s Roommate, Dharun Ravi, Indicted on 15 Counts


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