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
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

Movies

Shia LaBeouf disorderly conduct case pushed to September

A judge on Thursday adjourned until September the disorderly conduct and harassment case against actor Shia LaBeouf, who was charged with disturbing a Broadway theater…

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

NBA

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.