Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi was very shy but seemed to feel at home playing his violin in front of an audience. He was such a talented violinist, a friend was quoted as saying, “when he played his violin, everyone felt something.” What a wonderful testament to Tyler’s gift.
From few pictures of Tyler that I’ve seen, he reminds me of a few kids I knew in high school and college who were sweet, quiet, but a bit geeky. It appears two Rutgers students, Dharun Ravi, Tyler’s roommate, and Molly Wei, Dharun’s high school buddy, might have seen these same qualities in Tyler and thought that made him source of entertainment for them over a hundred of their friends. Last week, Ravi and Wei decided it would be hilarious to secretly stream live video of Tyler’s sexual encounter with another male Rutgers student over the internet.
The following day Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge. From the New York Post:
It was a fatal blow struck from cyberspace.
A shy Rutgers freshman was so humiliated when two cruel classmates secretly streamed live video of his gay encounter that he leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, authorities said yesterday.
“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” Tyler Clementi, 18, posted on his Facebook page just eight minutes before his plunge at around 8:50 p.m. on Sept. 22.
Clementi’s suicide led to a swift criminal probe and the arrest of his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow freshman, Molly Wei, for their alleged vile voyeurism.
NYPD Harbor Unit cops yesterday pulled the body of a young man from the waters off Manhattan’s northern tip — and cops suspect it was that of Clementi, a quiet, highly talented violinist from Ridgewood, NJ.
Authorities hoped that a watch found on his wrist would help identify him. Last night, NYPD detectives visited the teen’s parents, who were apparently unaware that their son was gay.
Robert Righthand, who had been friends with Clementi since grade school, said his pal had been holding that in.
Tyler’s Facebook update didn’t say why he committed suicide so we don’t know for a fact that he was driven by humiliation at Ravi’s and Wei’s live streaming his having sex with another guy. It is possible that Tyler had other problems that were the source for his suicide, although it doesn’t look that way right now.
The narrative about Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei that’s making its way around the internet right now is that they were motivated by homophobia and I can understand why people would automatically make this assumption. But if we look at Ravi’s public comments on Twitter, his contempt and ridicule was directed at Clementi only. If he had been motivated by an anti-gay bigotry, wouldn’t his comments have been directed at both men since they were both engaged in the sexual activity? I suspect if Clementi had been straight, Ravi would have found something else to torment him with.
Dr. Keith Ablow at Fox News says the internet and social media are to blame for the actions of all three kids. I completely disagree:
This “stunt” isn’t just a college prank gone bad. It is evidence of the dehumanizing effects that technology is having on young people. I very much doubt that Ravi and Wei are murderers at heart. The “thrill” of using a Webcam and Skype and Twitter to play-act as producers and directors turned their victim (Clementi) into nothing more than another contestant on a mean-spirited, ill-conceived reality show.
That’s what technology does to people, though. Working from behind a camera and sending images into cyberspace now removes the human face from the actions of many, many people. The hardware and software of Skype and Facebook and Twitter and many, many other Web standards can be a virus that scrambles the code of the empathy on the hard drives of their souls. They literally turn into the purveyors of entertainment who lose sight of where Web life begins and real life ends.
Yet here is the most frightening possibility of all: Wei and Ravi may have had no deep, dark desire to bully and humiliate someone to death at all.
The Web and webcams and Skype and Twitter may have hijacked essentially decent people, kindled some potential for intrigue and eroticism and practical joking that resides in millions and millions of young Americans and turned it in a lethal force.
I understand to a degree what Dr. Ablow is saying. Kids’ developing brains aren’t as equipped to differentiate the fine line between the Internet and real life. I understand that. Nonetheless, the argument that it’s all technology’s fault not only just lets Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei off the hook, but is misdirected. The technology Ravi used is irrelevant here. The central issue is intent. Ravi intended to violate Tyler’s privacy by live streaming for everyone to watch what he knew would be his sexual encounter with another man. Technology was their tool in the 20th century. If Ravi lived ten years ago he probably would have taken pictures or planted an audio recording device in his dorm room. This kind of callousness is a flaw inherent in these kids. Ravi’s splashing Tyler’s most private and intimate activities on the internet in spite of seeing him and speaking to him on a regular basis illustrates how he was able to dehumanize him.
Behaviors like this don’t just appear out of nowhere in kids who at their core have always been kind, hardworking, and fair minded. I would not be surprised if we find out later that this wasn’t the first time they, or at least Ravi since he was the one who actually broadcast the live stream online, behaved so cruelly toward someone else.