The conviction of Dharun Ravi on March 15 on all counts of bias intimidation and invading the privacy of his roommate Tyler Clementi, who subsequently committed suicide, is a tragedy for everyone involved in this incident. Ravi and Clementi shared a dorm room at Rutgers University in September 2010 when Davi committed the crimes he was found guilty of on March 15.
A young gay man is dead, his family will never see him reach his potential as an aspiring violinist and another young man may serve several years in prison with hardened criminals and be forever tarnished as a “monster.”
Gay activists have applauded the conviction as have others who have asserted that Ravi’s actions rise to the level of an unconscionable act of bias against a young gay man and therefore must be punished by the full force of the law, which could be as severe as a ten year prison term and deportation to his native India.
Although Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s suicide, the prosecution team claimed it would bring similar charges even if the target of the “intimidation” had not committed suicide. Nevertheless, the charges against Ravi and the conviction on all the major counts raise some issues that reflect how our culture and now legal system have been transformed in the age of “entitlements.”
The facts of this case are not in dispute. Ravi set up a webcam on his computer to “spy” on his roommate who was having an intimate encounter with another man. However, are these actions of a vicious individual who wanted to harm and “intimidate” his roommate? Clearly, Ravi violated Tyler’s privacy. And that the proper punishment for that should have been sanctions by Rutgers, suspension or expulsion, not a criminal indictment by the government. But the charge that Ravi engaged in “bias intimidation” because he made fun of his gay roommate on his Twitter account rose to the level of a “hate crime,” according to the prosecution.
The conviction of Ravi raises a far more troubling issue, the assault on free speech. The American people’s free speech rights are unequivocal, the government—federal-state and local– cannot prosecute us for engaging in unpopular, controversial or for that matter “insensitive” remarks. But the New Jersey statute that prosecutors based their indictment of Ravi is a direct assault on the First Amendment.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been invoked to protect the rights of neo-Nazis to march in Jewish neighborhoods where Holocaust survivors live. Could there be any more insensitive act than that? And yet the American Civil Liberties Union defended the free speech rights of the neo-Nazis at considerable cost. Some members withdraw their financial support, but to its credit the ACLU stood by its position, defending the right of everyone to voice their opinions, no matter how distasteful, disgusting or “hateful,” without fear of prosecution by the government.
On this issue alone, the statute should be declared unconstitutional because a person’s “insensitive” remarks or nonviolent actions are not ‘crimes” in the sense of violating someone’s person and property. In short, Davi’s boorish acts are not the same as those of a rapist, murderer, thief, kidnapper, carjacker, bank robber, etc. Yet in the minds of prosecutors and legislators who wrote the law and voted for it, unkind acts and insensitive remarks, especially against so-called protected classes of people, have become felonies.
If we apply this standard to all acts, then abortion should be outlawed, because it is a violent act against an innocent human life, and it is an act of bias, because no other class of human beings can be summarily killed by another human being with impunity. Will the advocates of anti-bullying and bias intimidation laws include unborn children in the protected class of potential victims?
Finally, government prosecutors were quick to charge Ravi with bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. But isn’t that precisely what all levels of government do? They invade our privacy with the income tax and property taxes, harass business owners with their regulations and they defraud us by printing dollars out of thin air, thereby debasing our money.
And let’s not forget the greatest crimes of the federal government, waging unconstitutional wars, killing innocent civilian overseas, violating our privacy at the airports with sexually assaults, all “bias” crimes if there ever were ones. In short, hooking up a webcam to a computer to view a roommate having an intimate encounter with another person, pales in comparison to the crimes of the federal government and their junior partners, state, county and local governments that harasses and expropriate money from productive citizens to feed the welfare-warfare state.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com