Friday, March 16, 2012

I Don't Believe In So-called Hate Crimes

Remember the case of the Rutgers student who streamed video of his roommate's gay encounter(s) over the internet, and when the roommate found out he jumped to his death off a bridge? Well, the former student has been found guilty:
A former Rutgers University student accused of spying on and intimidating his gay roommate by use of a hidden webcam was found guilty Friday of all counts -- including invasion of privacy and the more severe charges of bias intimidation -- in a case that thrust cyberbullying into the national spotlight.

Dharun Ravi, 20, was also found guilty of witness tampering, hindering apprehension and tampering with physical evidence, and could now face up to 10 years in jail and deportation to his native India...

Though Ravi and Molly Wei -- a fellow student who admitted to joining Ravi to watch the surreptitious encounter that others were alerted to via social media -- were charged in the wake of Clementi's suicide, they were not charged directly with his death.

Facing two counts of invasion of privacy, Wei reached a plea deal in May that required her to testify against her friend and former high school classmate as well as to complete a three-year program on cyberbullying and do 300 hours of community service.
I've never been comfortable with the "thought police" mentality that of necessity accompanies hate crimes. Look at his list of crimes--are they not enough? Why do we need to add an amorphous additional crime, the sole purpose of which is to add more time to this man's sentence? It's too subject to whim and abuse.

Update, 3/17/12: I hope that this case shines a disinfecting sunlight on the travesty of justice that is hate crimes legislation:
A longtime gay rights activist in New York, Bill Dobbs, also was troubled by the case.

"As hate crime prosecutions mount, the problems with these laws are becoming more obvious ... how they compromise cherished constitutional principles," Dobbs said. "Now a person gets tried not just for misdeeds, but for who they are, what they believe, what their character is."


Ellen K said...

Here's a question. What if Ravi's culture found such sexual proclivities offensive? Let's face it, many other nations consider gay behavior offensive. To a student who came here from another nation it would be almost as offensive to have a roomate doing that in one's room as it would be to have someone sacrificing live chickens.

allen (in Michigan) said...

On the basis of the deal offered to Ravi I have to wonder how much the prosecutor thought of their own case and what the chances of the conviction being overturned on appeal might be.

I have a feeling much of this sort of "thought" crime is more a political sop and a threat to be held over the heads of those being prosecuted then the sort of law that'll survive judicial review.

mazenko said...

Motive matters. On a basic level, it's the difference between murder and manslaughter. On a larger scale, it could be about genocide. If one guy beats up another, it's a crime. If that guy targets racial groups, we're on a different level.

Darren said...

I disagree. The guy didn't like gays, but is that *why* he did what he did? And even if so, why does that make the video streaming a worse crime than if he'd streamed his highly religious but sinful straight roommate's sex?

I don't think govt should be trying to peer into your head and divine why you did something wrong. It's enough to determine if you meant to do what you did, and in some cases if you knew it was wrong.

mazenko said...

Because gay people are a targeted minority. Of course he did it because the boy was gay. That's an identifiable prejudice, which is more than simple mischief.

Highly religious but straight people are not a social group which has systematically suffered discrimination. The government has a role if a person is violating another's civil rights based on more than a person to person act.

Ultimately, I would say the other charges are sufficient and justified as harassment, bullying, tampering, etc. However, we stand against discrimination against groups. If the jury looked past the hate crime idea, I wouldn't object. But, I have no problem with considering it.

As a society we cannot ignore evidence of targeted mass discrimination. I know this is extreme - but you love to go slippery slope on me. So, should we wait until there is large scale discrimination in which gay people are rounded up and deprived of rights? And then step in and say "no"?

Darren said...

Don't we already have laws depriving people of their rights? And who would do the "rounding up" if not the government?

I have problems with the potential of having two cases with the same facts except for the "targeted minority", and having two different outcomes solely because of that one difference. I don't like having two different classes of people in the manner you're suggesting.

Ellen K said...

So playing devil's advocate here, what if Ravi was so offended and had asked to be moved to a room with a straight roomate? I have heard of cases where that too was deemed as "hateful" and denied. At some point doesn't a straight student living on campus deserve the right to not having their privacy invaded by gay sexual behavior? I don't think this whole incident came out of nowhere. I think it is highly likely that the gay student hit on his roomate much to his dismay. I think the roomate complained and was written up as a bigot and ignored. As a result, Ravi took the law into his own hands. Whatever happened to "your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose?"

allen (in Michigan) said...

Sorry, motive doesn't matter. Motive relevant to the criminal act matters.

By your reasoning a Blank Panther whose...oh, sorry. Not only does motive matter but so does group affiliation. Some people are incapable of committing a hate crime because their hatred is of a pure nature justified by past wrongs done, not necessarily to them, but to people who look like them so let me start again.

By your reasoning a Ku Klux Klansman elevator repair man whose negligence results in a black person dying is guilty of a hate crime since they're motivated by hatred of black people but if a white person dies right next to the black person no hate crime attaches. I'd point out that by differentially valuing human life your guilty of exactly the same sort of bigotry as people you claim to despise but that would bring into question the moral perfection without which you can't be a "progressive".

But even if hate crime prosecution were race/gender/religion-blind I'd still be opposed to it because modifying people's thoughts isn't the purpose of criminal law. Punishing those who act criminally, as a deterrent and to isolate said criminals, is the purpose of criminal law. If someone wants to grumble about shifty Gypsies, sly Jews, drunk Irish or lazy Mexicans then I see no problem to which the application of the criminal justice system is appropriate. But throw one punch....

Anonymous said...

Hate crime statutes exist to discourage behaviors (not thoughts) that undoubtably harm the rest of society by infringing on the liberties of individuals based on their nature. Anti discrimination laws, by the limitations they place on governments essentially promote the same thought, and further apply to them to businesses, services, and other organizations.

Although, it is troubling that these laws can apply to a situation in which there is no clear evidence that the defendant intended bodily harm. The whole case is a tragedy.

I like the irony of your reference to the "thought police." Ironic because it is out of context. 1984 was a giant criticism of national socialism, and Orwell was a democratic socialist, an ideology in stark contrast to the ideas of the Tea Party.