Facing facts on Tyler Clementi’s death

Tyler Clementi

What “hate crime” was to Matthew Shepard, “bullying” became to Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers University student who took his life in September 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Allegedly, this occurred after and because his roommate gay-bashed him, exposed his sexuality to the world and broadcasted him having sex with a man over the Internet.

But was what really happened even bullying? Or was this tragic tale lumped among the manifesting outrage and issue-centric advocacy that was popular at the time?

Following the self-inflicted death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas, who was chronically harped upon at school for not seeming straight, the world took up arms to combat this type of “bullying” that too often leads kids – gay or otherwise – who feel marginalized and alienated from their peers to take their own lives. Clementi’s death, which came to pass amidst a string of some half-dozen similar suicides, was often embraced as an emblem of the bullying (and cyberbullying) “epidemic” — including via TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and stories within the viral “It Gets Better” campaign, led by Dan Savage.

In reality, most of the story that was reported in the early weeks of the tragedy – the one that’s still embedded in public consciousness – is a far cry from the truth.

A New Yorker article published this week examines the facts and questions the motives of the young adult accused of instigating Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

For example, it characterizes Clementi as a socially awkward, painfully shy teen who felt more at ease talking to strangers online than talking to peers in his own periphery. It carefully asks if he may have been struggling with internalized insecurities and suicidal thoughts even before he ever met the young man who would be his roommate, Dharun Ravi.

It also introduces pertinent facts by explaining that Ravi had no way of knowing Clementi was reading his Twitter feed, where Ravi posted, among other discriminatory remarks, “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

And then there was the fact that the two young men hardly ever spoke — and that Clementi was not out, formally, to Ravi.

Most importantly, there’s the truth that while Ravi and a friend peeped in on Clementi while he was kissing a male friend, no sex was witnessed and nothing was taped – much less virally shared. Ravi did, however, potentially attempt to set up a second live filming that never came to pass.

Many of these details are going to play a strong role in the prosecution of Ravi, who is now on trial for his purported role in Clementi’s death. They were all pieced together from a combination of text and IM messages as well as tweets and message board posts — virtual evidence that’s rampantly available and bewilderingly accessible in today’s networked world. Some critical details, like direct feedback from Ravi or the content of Clementi’s suicide note, are unfortunately omitted.

The article also introduces the term “bias intimidation.” Rather than the phrase “bullying,” this is the technical term describing the most critical of the charges faced by Ravi. The article explains that bullying is characterized by repeated outward antagonizing, for which there is no evidence here.

Now 20 years old, Ravi’s fate comes down to the distinction between actions and their corresponding descriptors: spying – an invasion of privacy and a sex crime, with a light sentence – or bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. The latter term is the doozy. It implies that Ravi acted out of malice toward Clementi because of his sexual orientation, or that Clementi had reason to believe his roommate harbored such hatred. It could, in its own right, sentence Ravi to five to 10 years in jail.

More recently in New York, 15-year-old Amanda Cummings committed suicide by stepping in front of a bus. Originally her parents and the police questioned whether bullying drove her to it. Some believed that she had been targeted in relation to a 19-year-old male, with whom she’d recently split. But ultimately, the case was dismissed as a matter of bullying. Is there room to speculate what this tragic occurrence might have looked like were Amanda dating a 19-year-old woman? Similarly, what would Ravi’s charges look like were he filming someone who was straight?

Sometimes it’s important to expand your point of view. But then again, sometimes it’s important to narrow it. Without the baggage attached to the broad “bully” buzzword, this case whittles down to one-sided testimony and parsing Web posts.

Distinguishing whether Tyler Clementi felt ostracized because he was gay, felt threatened by his roommate or simply felt overwhelmed by the world around him can have a major impact on the trial’s outcome. Ian Parker, author of the New Yorker article that so painstakingly pulls together the details preceding Clementi’s death, informs us that it’s time for more careful, concise terminology to enter our collective vocabulary when it comes to the life and death of children and young adults in need. In this case, that includes Dharun Ravi. 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Drive charged in fatal hit and run, police…

The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for a fatal hit and run in Manhattan last weekend. Doohee Cho, 33, was hit…

Local

Mayor de Blasio raises minimum wage for some…

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Tuesday morning that will raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private companies that receive more…

National

3 myths about the working poor

Linda Tirado works to debunk some common stereotypes about the working poor in her new book, "Hand to Mouth."

Money

Lawsuit funding advances: friend or foe?

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Many plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their lawsuit or legal claim often find themselves in a tricky financial…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…

Entertainment

Interview: Metro chats with filmmaker Meir Kalmanson, man…

A New York filmmaker hands out smiles to its residents.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 30: 'Selfie,' 'Utopia'…

'Selfie' This modern day take on the "My Fair Lady" story stars John Cho in the Henry Higgins role. Perhaps instead of "the rain in…

Music

Can't-miss weekend events continue to attract the masses

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Earlier this summer, the Firefly Music Festival drew crowds of tens of thousands of people to Dover, Delaware.…

MLB

Mets 2014 report card

The Mets wrapped up their eight straight season without a playoff appearance last weekend. Needless to say, they fell a bit short of general manager…

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

Style

Products that support breast cancer awareness and research

Asics GT-1000, $100 Asics’ third pink collection in collaboration with Christina Applegate’s Right Action for Women includes this pink-accented version of its best-selling GT-1000 3…

Wellbeing

Dr. Marisa Weiss: Where we stand on breast…

As an oncologist and a survivor herself, Dr. Marisa Weiss knows the urgency felt by those diagnosed with breast cancer. Genetic testing has accelerated the…

Wellbeing

Bees' stingers hold new hope for cancer cure

A promising new lead in the search for a cancer cure has turned up in a place that most people naturally avoid. A team from…

Home

Emily Henderson on small space design

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us how to upgrade our cramped quarters.