Tag: Cyber-bullying

The Clementi Case

You’ve probably heard about the Tyler Clementi case. Dharun Ravi videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi having a gay encounter. The roommate later committed suicide. Actually, that’s not quite true. Ravi claims he set up a webcam to see if his roommate’s visitor would steal something. When he saw them kiss, he turned it off. Later he deliberately set up a webcam and tweeted it to his followers. But Clementi had turned off the computer so nothing happened. Sometime after, Clementi jumped of the George Washington bridge.

The incident has led to numerous anti-bullying and cyber-bullying laws and, this week, led to the conviction of Dharun Ravi on invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He faced 5-10 years in prison and everyone is delighted.

Well, not everyone:

There was another boy in the room with Tyler Clementi that night. That other boy, so far as we know, hasn’t been publicly identified.

He also hasn’t committed suicide.

A mob mentality has set in. People—gay and straight, liberal and conservative—are calling for the heads of the two Rutgers students who cruelly and thoughtlessly invaded Tyler’s privacy. Facing charges that could bring them fives years in prison isn’t enough: people are calling for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei to be charged with manslaughter, even murder. But the other boy didn’t commit suicide. So there had to be something else going on, some other contributing factors, that drove Tyler to such a point of despair and hopelessness that he took his own life. And this one incident of anti-gay bullying, however traumatizing it may have been (and Tyler’s emails and web posts immediately after indicate that he was upset, but not destroyed, by what his roommate had done), were not enough to do it. The other boy hasn’t committed suicide. This one event did not take a healthy, well-adjusted, well-loved gay kid and convince him to throw himself off the George Washington Bridge.

Surely, that must be some Right-Wing lunatic braying those insensitive things. That’s probably an op-ed by Rick Santorum, right? Nope. It’s from Dan Savage, who is exactly the opposite of Rick Santorum in every conceivable way.

Savage’s point is that Clementi must have had other problems, more likely a series of bullying incidents, and that this was the last straw that pushed him over the edge. But even that point may not be quite correct. Jacob Sullum points out that it’s not even clear that Clementi was getting any anti-gay-bullying from Ravi at all:

the prosecution never really substantiated its claim that Ravi deliberately sought to intimidate Clementi because he was gay. The most incriminating statement it introduced was Ravi’s joke that the webcam would “keep the gays away,” which might have reflected nothing more than his discomfort with the sexual activity going on in his room, a feeling that was compounded by the fact that Clementi’s visitor was an older man from off campus who struck Ravi as scruffy and taciturn. A naive 18-year-old’s uneasiness is such a situation is not the same as anti-gay hatred, and there is very little evidence that Ravi harbored antipathy toward homosexuals in general or Clementi in particular (leaving aside the point that such opinions should not be subject to criminal penalties). For all we know, Ravi was completely sincere when he said in a note of apology to Clementi (written after Clementi complained about the spying and asked for a room change) that he had nothing against gay people, a point that was confirmed by the prosecution’s own witnesses. Certainly there was reasonable doubt on that question.

So why did they convict? Above the Law explains:

So, the jury believed that Ravi did not invade Clementi’s privacy for the purpose of intimidating Clementi over his sexual orientation. But they thought that Ravi should have known that Clementi would feel intimidated, and that Clementi believed he was intimidated, and so Ravi is guilty and going to jail.

Is that how we want our hate crime laws to work? Any time we feel we’re being singled out because of our race, religion, or sexual orientation, we’re victims of a hate crime, even if we’re not being singled out because of our race, religion, or orientation? We’ve moved beyond punishing what is in a person’s heart, and moved straight to punishing an assailant for what’s in his victim’s heart.

Bingo. For years, conservatives have complained that hate crime laws create special classes of victims. I have not paid much attention to that argument because I worry about the larger issue: hate crime is thought crime. If someone beats me up because I’m Jewish, I’m no more hurt than if they beat me up to take my wallet. What we have criminalized is their motive. And only certain motives. If someone beats me because they hate that I’m an asshole and smell bad, they aren’t punished. It’s only a hate crime if it’s the yarmulke that offends them. A verdict like this should put fear into everyone. No longer is crime defined by objective evidence or the actions/intentions of the accused. It is defined by how the victim feels about it — or in this case, how we conjecture that they felt about it.

Back in college, the feminists attempt to define sexual harassment by the catch-phrase, “if you think you’ve been harassed, you’ve been harassed”. I objected that this left any factual analysis out of the equation; it let people define an offense any way they wanted to — in this case, an offense that could result in expulsion from school. It created an arbitrary state of law that could be used against anyone the authorities didn’t like.

We’re now seeing this mentality creep into law — if you think you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, or the prosecutor can persuade a jury you have been, then you’re a victim. Facts don’t matter; only feelings do. The prosecutors couldn’t really pin anything on Ravi but there was a hue and cry for his head. So they found a way to stretch an overly flexible law to accomodate that outcry. And if they can stretch it to put him in prison, they can stretch it to put anyone in prison.

(H/T: First Amendment bulldog Mark Randazza).

The Bully Initiative

Because our schools are doing everything else so well…

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The impetus for this is the Anti-Bullying … wait for it … Bill of Rights, a cumbersome new law that is imposing all kinds of policies on schools who already have strained budgets. It mandates reporting, includes “cyber-bullying”, requires the creation of antibullying specialists and is lining the pockets of various interests:

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

That’s a cool quarter of a million for however threw that together.

The impetus for this is the death of Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after a video of him having sex with another man was circulated. But that’s more harassment and invasion of privacy than bullying. That can be prosecuted under existing law. Moreover, Clementi was a college student, not a high school student. As a general rule, laws passed after a tragedy are bad news. Laws that encourage anonymous tips to police are a recipe for an outrageous persecution of some poor kid.

This is my favorite quote:

“Kids have to learn to deal with conflict,” [Margaret Dolan] said. “What a shame if they don’t know how to effectively interact with their peers when they have a disagreement.”

But they’re not going to learn how to interact with peers and deal with conflict if a psychologist leaps out from behind the bushes every time two kids get into a conflict. Part of growing up is learning to deal with people who are assholes. This is something kids have to learn on their own. The only time authorities should step in is when there’s a real danger of physical violence. Once of things I like about Sal 9000 Beta’s day care is that the teachers don’t leap in every time two kids have a squabble, even if one kid is clearly being a jerk. The kids need to learn how to function on their own. And they do.

The real damage, I suspect, will be to education. This is just one more regulation, one more piece of bureaucratic bullshit that the poor public school teachers of New Jersey have to deal with. It’s bad enough that the state is looking over their shoulder, trying to micromanage every minute of class time and making a federal case when they try to discipline a student (or fire an incompetent colleague). Now they have to be on the alert for anything that can be remotely called bullying or be in violation of the law.

This wasn’t a difficult issue to deal with. Criminal sanctions can be used to punish those who intimidate, threaten or abuse others. But creating a huge mandate for training, snitching and counseling is just asking for disaster. It’s another iteration of the “We must do something! This is something! Let’s do it!” mentality that characterizes public policy.

This will blow up in New Jersey’s face. Just watch.