Tyler Clementi Case Sparks Fierce Debate Over Hate Crimes

Ex-Rutgers student Dharun Ravi could face more than 10 years in prison after he was convicted Friday for hate crimes, invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence, and a host of other charges. Ravi spied on his gay college roommate, Tyler Clementi, who subsequently committed suicide.

The verdict comes as a victory for gay rights activists, who pushed hard for hate crimes to send a strong message against anti-gay bullying. But not everyone belives the ruling is appropriate.

Listen to NPR's in-depth report by Joel Rose:


The case against Ravi began on Sept. 19, 2010, when he sent the following Twitter message: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Authorities say he also used a web camera in his dormitory room to stream Clementi's intimate encounter live on the Internet.

Three days later, Clementi committed suicide.

The New York Times reported that the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office initially charged Ravi with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Mr. Clementi. But, in April 2011, the grand jury indicted Ravi on hate-crime charges.

Legal scholars and gay rights activists have been divided over whether Ravi should be charged so severely. The prosecution based their case on a long chain of electronic messages that paint Ravi as disgusted by Clementi's sexual orientation. New Jersey’s attorney general, Paula T. Dow, called the hate crimes charge “an important step in this heartbreaking case.” Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay-rights advocacy group, said, “potential bullies will now think harder before demolishing another student’s life.”

But legal professor Marc Poirier said, "It simply doesn't fit the standard model of hate crimes. It's intrusive. It strikes me as stupid roommate stuff. But none of that is particularly violent. Throwing the book at him - at least with regard to the hate crimes, which is what I'm focused on - is problematic."

Join the debate: Should Ravi have been charged with committing a hate crime? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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