Skepticism

Rutgers, Ravi, Reality

Some of you may remember the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide last fall after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, broadcast Clementi’s same-sex activities via webcam. The latest news in Ravi’s trial is that a fellow student testified that Ravi was “uncomfortable” with having a gay roommate; some commenting on the case have pointed out that Ravi’s Indian background might have played a role in his homophobia.

Is what happened a case of a foreign man being unable to handle another man’s sexual orientation, or the type of situation that the It Gets Better project is trying to eradicate?

On one hand, Indian society isn’t exactly LGBT friendly.

Much of Indian culture centers around filial ties. There is a reason why Indian weddings are the well-known, large, colorful productions that they are; weddings are an important symbol of what’s important in Indian society: family. People who live as openly LGBT are seen as betraying their families as well as the tradition of continuing families.

Furthermore, despite the idea that the existence of the Kama Sutra must mean that Indians are sex-positive, Indian society as a whole is quite sex-negative. Adolescents and young adults might be told what is forbidden to them if necessary, but conversations about sex are verboten for young children and frowned upon for older ones. Indeed, talking about sex and sexuality is considered bad for straight, married folk, so those who do not fit into those norms are considered even more shameful for discussing such matters.

Upon immigration, such attitudes change little, if at all. Most children of immigrants retain their parents’ attitudes at least before adulthood. Even those of us whose attitudes do not match our parents’ tend to keep it to ourselves in deference to the pain it would cause our parents to feel. To give a personal example, even though I am out to my parents as an atheist, they have no idea that I voted no on Proposition 8, let alone that I worked on the NoH8 Campaign. It simply does not seem worth it to be honest lest I cause more in the way of family rifts.

On the other hand, if talking about sex is forbidden, then the idea of videocasting another person’s private sexual activities is not exactly Indian. If Ravi had been displaying more typical Indian attitudes, he would not have Tweeted or attempted to broadcast sexual content of any kind.

Additionally, Ravi was very young when his family immigrated to the United States, so his situation is far more analogous to that of the child of immigrants than to that of an immigrant. He was raised in America; deeply-held homophobic views from “back home” cannot explain his actions.

Ravi’s obsession with spying on and Tweeting about his roommate calls into question the idea that he was “uncomfortable” with the situation; if he was so uncomfortable, why not request a room transfer? In the end, it was Clementi who requested that he be placed with another roommate, not Ravi, due to Ravi’s obnoxious behavior.

Ravi’s reprehensible behavior is not in question, but his motivations for them definitely are. Their connection with his Indian background seems tenuous as best — let us not forget that his actions are the same as those of many other American cyber-bulliers in recent years. This isn’t an instance of a student’s actions reflecting his background, it’s a case of a student who likely failed to reflect on the possible repercussions of his actions.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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35 Comments

  1. The immigrant line of reasoning never made sense to me. It’s essentially Imperialism on the other foot; he wouldn’t be so bad if only he were actually American! Right?

    It still doesn’t excuse his behaviour, and it’s clear that he has an essential understanding of morality still. Even if he were a recent immigrant it wouldn’t excuse what he did in any fashion. It’s doubly worse that he can’t really claim to be an immigrant, culturally, and someone is trying to play that card for him.

  2. It’s true–Ravi is culturally American, having grown up in the US, and I particularly bristle at the possibility that he could be deported as part of his punishment. Indeed, part of the reason he is seeking acquittal in this case is to prevent this possibility, as there is a lot of doubt that the promises made by the state of NJ to take deportation off the table had any legal traction.

    I’ve been following a lot of the news on this case, and while Ravi’s actual webcam behaviour is inexcusable, it seems pretty clear from both kids’ published conversations that their chilly relationship ran both ways (as seen here in this New Yorker article). It’s hard not to get the sense that Ravi is being railroaded as an example due to the massive media exposure Clementi’s suicide got due to its timing.

    As far as I know, the contents of some of Clementi’s writings have still not been revealed to the defense or the public (anyone with further info on this please provide), and there is some speculation that they might contain other motivations for his suicide that would take some of the wind out of prosecutors’ sails.

    I’ll reiterate that I don’t condone the behaviour, but the response seems incredibly overblown for what amounts to an unkind prank between roommates. Speaking as someone who also had a somewhat chilly roommate relationship in my freshman year, living in very close quarters with someone you don’t particularly like can lead to a lot of ill feelings and passive aggressive behaviour. Even when technically illegal it’s very very rare to get the police involved.

    1. Ravi’s tweets, his webcam ‘prank’, his actions, his words afterwards are not passive aggressive behavior. They’re unethical breaches of privacy and clearly part of the cause of his suicide. Even if his writings reveal other problems that helped lead to the suicide, there’s an observed causal link between this kind of bullying (as that is the best term for it, though it isn’t strict enough for the level of behavior) leads to ostracism and, in many cases, suicide.

      There are no excuses for Ravi’s behavior. None. While I don’t think he should be deported, because he is culturally American, I think he should be tried for manslaughter. He knew the kind of effect this would have on his roommate. It isn’t simply passive aggressive bullshit. It was targeted behavior intended on hurting another individual in public.

    2. Prank? This is more Carrie than Jackass.

      A prank is drawing boners on your roommate’s face while he’s asleep. This is malicious and intentional infliction of emotional distress designed to humiliate, devastate, and ostracize the victim.

      Not a prank.

      1. Oh, come on. Carrie? She murders a room full of people. Ravi sees his roommate once on a webcam and fails to broadcast it or record it elsewhere the second time, despite an intention to do so. Even with intention to humiliate, you can’t seriously contend that this was a likely result. It’s really not that much worse than stealing someone’s clothes when they are in the shower and forcing them to publicly go somewhere in a towel to retrieve them (another relatively commonplace and humiliating prank).

        By the way, I’m not using the word prank in some kind of benign way. What he did was bad and he deserves punishment. But ten years imprisonment followed by deportation to a country he’s never lived in is totally unreasonable BY ANY STANDARD. In any other circumstance this behaviour would and should be handled internally by the university with disciplinary probation or eviction from campus housing.

          1. Remember–because this is often glossed over–nothing was actually broadcast, and even Ravi did not see anything X rated.

        1. You heavily implied it. You’re essentially defending Ravi’s actions, actions that have no practical defense.

          He knowingly attacked someone using social devices to continue and promote his ostracism. He tacitly encouraged suicide. Especially since it’s part of the American cultural narrative that ostracism has encouraged suicide because we’ve had Very Special Episodes about that in everything from daytime soap operas to Saturday morning cartoons for decades

          This isn’t a prank. It was an attack that he knew would hurt Clementi.

          1. I think you’re missing the distinction between acknowledging an action is bad and worthy of punishment and being upset by a completely disproportionate response to that action.

            Pranks can be nasty, hurtful, and traumatising. We can and should work to discourage nasty, hurtful, and traumatising behaviour by responding with appropriate punishments that do not wildly exceed the severity of the infraction. This is an important element of a fair legal system. Disproportionate response is a hallmark of capricious dictatorships looking to prove a point rather than evaluate behaviour and social good.

            In many cases, especially since universities are seen to operate in loco parentis in practice if not strictly legally, non-violent (and even some violent) infractions are handled internally even if they do break laws. This is why thousands of college kids are not imprisoned each year for possession of drugs and alcohol. (Though I wonder if doing just that wouldn’t get those laws changed immediately).

            In any other case Ravi would have (hopefully) been severely punished for attempting to invade his roommate’s privacy. This is part of the education in being a civil human being in dealing with others that living in a dorm is supposed to provide.

  3. @delictuscoeli: I think we disagree about the extent of Ravi’s malicious intent, but it’s a matter of degree. I don’t believe there’s any evidence that he expected or wanted Clementi’s death.
    I don’t think deportation and a lengthy prison sentence are necessarily appropriate, but I also don’t think that the involvement of law enforcement or criminal charges were inappropriate.
    To me, his actions look both vicious and reckless.

    1. Also remembering the state is exploiting the wording of the law that makes intent to record or disseminate equivalent to actually doing so. Clementi did, after all, unplug the computer since he was aware of the plan before it occurred.

      It really bothers me, actually, that Heina’s summary (like many summaries of this case) incorrectly states that the broadcast actually happened when it is established that it did not.

  4. So the question is, should the severity of those charges somehow be influenced by the fact that Clementi took his own life? In practice it absolutely has been, and heavily so. If that is the right call to make, how cruel does a single incident have to be to be considered a direct cause of suicide? Or is it just sufficient to superficially appear to fit a pattern that has a lot of media attention?

    This case differs a lot from the other bullying suicides that were in the news at the same time, and I think there’s some degree of pattern-seeking involved by the media and other interested parties. Essentially, reports don’t indicate that Clementi was subjected to patterns of abuse or victimisation by his peers as the other teens were. That coincidentally makes it very easy to point to a single incident and a single perpetrator as the “cause” of the suicide.

    I think it’s very troubling to set a precedent where one incident–even a very cruel one–becomes sufficient grounds to say someone was bullied into suicide. It diminishes the experiences of people who suffer from years of daily abuse and makes the term “bullying” too broad to be useful.

    Unfortunately because this incident is so egregious there’s a big temptation to lay the whole case at the feet of one boy and go after him with the full force of law without looking too closely at anything else.

  5. Ravi is a pathetic, immature asshole. That being said, the attempt to portray him as a hater of gays reeks of prosecutorial overreach. This appears more an attempt by authorities to support a charge aimed at increasing the penalty Ravi faces for his actions than a sincere desire for justice.

    Let’s look at the facts: Clementi had already told his parents he was gay, and he had requested alone time from his roommate, Ravi, for a meeting with a male friend. It doesn’t seem Clementi was trying too desperately to hide anything. Despite this, the prosecution claims that Ravi “planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s sexual orientation…seeking to brand Tyler as different from everybody else, as gay, to set him up for contempt and ridicule.”

    Why make these claims despite evidence to the contrary?

    A third-degree invasion of privacy charge–the only actual crime that can be conclusively proven here–carries a sentence of three to five years. By claiming that Ravi intended to intimidate Clementi because of his sexual orientation, however, the prosecution can justify bumping the charge a degree, which ups the potential penalty to five to 10 years.

    Why would the prosecution want to see this idiot put in prison for so long, especially considering Ravi was offered a plea deal that would have kept him out of prison altogether? My guess is because prosecutors often frame such plea offers in the context of POTENTIAL punishment. Clearly, I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the prosecution warned Ravi that he faced far greater punishment because what he did was a ‘hate crime.’ Ravi, dipshit that he is, called the prosecution’s bluff and turned their offer down. Hell hath no fury like a prosecutor scorned…

    (As an aside, according to the New Yorker [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/02/06/120206fa_fact_parker?currentPage=all], when a friend suggested to Clementi that what Ravi had done could be considered a hate crime, Clementi responded, “hahaha a hate crime lol.”)

    By bumping the charge prosecutors were also able to further an increasingly common–and to me, dangerous–trend of prosecuting people for their beliefs rather than for their actions.

    The reality here is that Ravi would likely not even be facing charges in this case if Clementi hadn’t killed himself. But now that he’s been charged, Ravi is facing punishment not only for what he did, but also for what the prosecution wants us to think Ravi believes.

    To me, this case illustrates very well the danger and folly of so-called ‘hate crimes.’ Prosecutors already enjoy a great deal of power when it comes to plea bargaining. Heavier–unjust?–punishments tip the scales unfairly in favor of the government when it comes to such negotiations.

    I have no problem with prosecuting and punishing those who commit crimes. But criminals should be prosecuted for their actions; they should not face additional punishment because they have disgusting, disturbing, unenlightened or just plain unpopular opinions.

    1. I’ve been very uncomfortable with the way this case has unfolded. I tend to lean more towards the position that you and delictuscoeli are taking and expounding here.

      HOWEVER,

      I completely disagree with your last two paragraphs.

      Hate crimes are worse than your run-of-the-mill crimes because the intention behind them is to intimidate and terrorize entire minority groups through violence against its members. When people specifically target others because they are minorities, that creates a terrorizing affect on those communities. Therefore, those crimes should be punished more severely because they affect more than just the victims.

      That’s not to say that any crime against a member of a minority group should be considered a hate crime. Intent is important. And I think that’s my problem with this case. I am not convinced that Ravi’s intention was to terrorize or intimidate gay people as a group, so I don’t think a hate crimes charge is warranted.

    2. The New Yorker article also points out that Ravi probably turned down the plea not because he was a dipshit, but because pleading to a felony still makes you a felon, and carries with it a high likelihood of deportation if you are a resident alien.

      While the plea promised the state would not pursue deportation, they have no power to encourage or prevent it. It is stricly a federal matter overseen by the INS.

      Faced with the prospect of never being able to return to the country they spent (essentially) their entire lives in, I think a lot of people would be willing to risk jail time too.

  6. “Intent is important. And I think that’s my problem with this case.”

    I think that’s the problem with EVERY ‘hate crime’ case. To say that murdering someone because they’re gay is somehow worse than murdering someone because you want their money is ludicrous.

    The fact that the prosecution can use a hate crime in the way it’s being used in this case is very scary to me. What OTHER opinions might become disgusting enough to warrant criminal prosecution? Who gets to decide what’s disgusting? Will the laws change when different politicians take power?

    1. Murdering someone because they’re gay has the effect of terrorizing/intimidating an entire minority group. Murdering someone because you want their money does not have the same effect.

      I’m not going to engage in a slippery-slope debate with you. Hate crimes laws work well for the most part, and they are specific about who they protect and who they do not.

      1. What you said.

        I also want to add other examples of crimes where intent matters because there are indirect victims of intimidation as well as the direct victim of the crime itself. A classic example is the Klan lynching someone, where the point is to terrify an entire community, not just the victim of the lynching. Another example is a mob boss ordering his henchmen to break the legs of a potential witness or a “protection racket” victim who refuses to pay, not just to keep that witness from testifying, or to force that victim to pay, but to send a message to all the other potential witnesses. These kinds of crimes are (or at least should be, since historically, the KKK literally got away with murder) punished much more severely due to the number of victims. (The mob boss cases aren’t a hate crime per se, but there are separate laws about witness intimidation and racketeering based on the same premise that wider damage to society justifies more severe punishment.)

  7. I agree that hate crime legislation does serve an important purpose when it is clear that actions are motivated by a desire to intimidate a community. In this case it’s very hard to see it as anything more than the DA office finding a convenient way to double the potential sentence in order to appear “tough on bullying.”

    It’s really not that clear that Ravi’s primary motivation here was to ostracise Clementi because being gay is icky. It seems more likely an attempt to embarrass or punish him for using their shared space to hook up with a much stranger from the internet (possibly further fuelled by Ravi’s own inability to find a partner). It is, by the way, very unpleasant to be regularly locked out of the one room you call home for hours at a time because your roommate is having sex and you are not. See, isn’t playing the “I know what was in his head” fun and productive?

    @punchdrunk: Yes, intent matters. But so does success or failure in the intended action. That’s why there is attempted robbery, for instance. Especially considering Clementi’s privacy was not successfully invaded and his romantic interlude was not broadcast to the public, it’s a bit hard to weigh this event as the major precipitating factor in his suicide. The first incident, where Ravi tested the camera and quickly shut it off after seeing Clementi and his partner, is only slightly different from walking in on your roommate without them noticing you. Which is generally not prosecuted.

  8. Perhaps I was unclear; I didn’t mean to imply intent doesn’t matter. There’s no question that intent matters for some crimes; whether or not a person intended to harm another in murder cases is certainly germane to judgement regarding punishment.

    My point is that in this case, as in most cases dealing with hate crimes, the prosecution wishes to go beyond seeking harsher punishment because a person intended to do harm (entirely appropriate), and punish more harshly for the person’s motivation behind the intent to do harm. I believe such motivations shouldn’t form the basis of judgement regarding punishment. Outside of cases involving self defense, or preventing harm to others, I believe it is wrong to intentionally harm another human, no matter your motivation.

    I can appreciate a desire to avoid slippery slope arguments, but we are beyond that, no? We are discussing a case in which the prosecutor is abusing the criminal code, for whatever reason. I have speculated this case is about an overzealous prosecution caught up in a plea deal gone wrong, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is we have a guy who will either be convicted and possibly receive a harsher punishment than he should because the jury was convinced he hates gays, or he will be acquitted and receive none–despite having clearly committed a crime–because the the jury was unconvinced he hates gays. If the prosecution had stuck to the facts and simply charged and prosecuted Ravi for the crime he committed rather than seeking to punish him for his beliefs, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    You may not like to think about sliding down a slope, but consider the case of an atheist activist dressed as ‘zombie Mohammed’ who was assaulted by an offended Muslim:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP-X3hpCfR8&feature=related

    The Muslim was charged and tried. The judge in the case granted a dismissal due to “conflicting testimony,” following which he strongly admonished the atheist activist for having used his first amendment right of free speech to “piss off other people and other cultures.”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/291921/sharia-court-pennsylvania-transcript-andrew-c-mccarthy

    What if making fun of religion became a hate crime? How hard would it be to prove to a mostly-religious jury that what R. Watson and PZ Myers do on a regular basis has “the effect of terrorizing/intimidating an entire [albeit, not a minority] group?”

    Far fetched?

    With a President Rick Santorum appointing the judges, I’m not so sure…

    1. My point is that in this case, as in most cases dealing with hate crimes

      This is a factual claim that you need to back up. You need to demonstrate that “most cases dealing with hate crimes” involve prosecutorial overreach. Otherwise, you’re just making things up.

      I think you are confused about what I mean when I say “intent.” The “motivation behind the intent to do harm” is exactly what I am talking about. To me, that’s just adding a level of unnecessary complication. The “motivation behind the intent to do harm” as you say (what I am simply calling “intent”) is to terrorize/intimdate a group of people. And those motivations/intents are exactly what is (and should) be taken into consideration, not just in hate crimes, but in other crimes as well.

      Motivation/intent matters, and I think your black-and-white view is problematic. For example, are you against euthanasia or assisted suicide? Or even thinking about the ambiguous nature of the word “harm”–are you against disciplining children in any way? Motivation is important, and to say that intentional harm is always wrong, full stop, is just too Manichaean for my tastes.

      And no, I’m still not going to engage with a slippery-slope debate with you. The story you linked to and your questions about outlawing speech are irrelevant because “making fun of gay people” is not a hate crime. Your analogy is flawed because there’s a huge difference between laws dealing with speech and laws enhancing punishment for violent crimes.

  9. From wiki:

    Hate crime laws are distinct from laws against hate speech in that hate crime laws enhance the penalties associated with conduct that is already criminal under other laws, while hate speech laws criminalize speech.

  10. You need to demonstrate that “most cases dealing with hate crimes” involve prosecutorial overreach. Otherwise, you’re just making things up.

    Will, you took my quote out of context. I never claimed that all–or even the majority–of cases where people are tried for hate crimes involve prosecutorial conduct. What I said is that hate crimes call for increased penalties because a criminal was motivated by an opinion or belief that is deemed illegal.

    And I don’t believe that prosecutors have to demonstrate overreach in “most” cases involving hate crimes in order for it to be a major problem. That hate crimes CAN and HAVE been used by prosecutors as an effective tool for overreach should be a source of concern.

    Do you believe this is the only such case?

    For example, are you against euthanasia or assisted suicide?

    If a person wishes to end their own life I have no problem with it. In the absence of permission from the individual, yes, I have a problem with it.

    …are you against disciplining children in any way?

    C’mon Will. Disciplining a child with the goal of HELPING her grow and learn does not constitute intent to HARM.

    Your analogy is flawed because there’s a huge difference between laws dealing with speech and laws enhancing punishment for violent crimes.

    Well I don’t view it that way. I see a very short step over a very narrow line between holding someone accountable for what they think/believe and holding someone accountable for what they say.

    It’s not like it’s never happened in America before…

    1. “What I said is that hate crimes call for increased penalties because a criminal was motivated by an opinion or belief that is deemed illegal.”

      IANAL, but that is not the basis nor the effect of hate crime laws. The basis, as Will, Punchdrunk, I and others have pointed out, is the intent of a hate crime is not just to harm the direct victim, but to intimidate and terrorize a whole class of other victims.

      Believing and saying or writing that gays have an evil agenda to subvert our civilization is not illegal, just stupid. Acting on that belief and assaulting or killing or harassing a gay person in order to fight the imagined homosexual agenda is a hate crime and warrants extra punishment beyond that for simple assault, murder or harassment.

      You are conflating arguments for and against hate crime laws with arguments about the application of those laws. If you think that prosecutors misapply hate crime laws to cases where hatred for a group was not the motive (e.g. for political gain), then perhaps the laws need to be tightened up. The burden of proof is on you to show this is a common problem that needs to be addressed systematically, rather than something rare that can and is addressed on a case by case basis. For example, juries may find people guilty of the underlying crime, but not guilty of the hate crime. Or maybe this is a ruling made by the judge after the defendant is found guilty, when determining the penalty. (IANAL)

      Maybe, if you can show this is a problem, the laws need to be changed. But I think this is more properly the domain of case law, that some judge somewhere will create a set of rules that determine when hate crimes laws should pertain, and that these will be upheld on appeal, and defense attorneys will be able to get the hate crime part of the charges summarily dismissed if the prosecution doesn’t show the criteria have been met. Or maybe this is already the case. As I stated several times, IANAL.

    2. What Buzz said.

      @Boomer: It might help to approach the problem in a different way. I take you to be arguing that hate crime laws are bad because they deem certain beliefs to be “illegal,” yet since these beliefs outside of the context of a crime are clearly not illegal and are protected (in the US) by the first amendment, this represents a kind of governmental hypocrisy designed to get around this protection for repellent ideas.

      What supporters of hate crime laws argue is that an intent to intimidate a larger community is not just a motivation for a crime. It creates more victims to the extent that the targeted community is made to live in fear. It is the increased victimisation that justifies the punishment, not the beliefs of the person. It just so happens that one results from the other in the case of hate crimes.

      Racketeering (per Buzz above) is a good counterexample of the same principle applied when ideology is not at stake. Breaking someone’s legs because they insulted you in a bar is considered to be different from breaking someone’s legs because they are late on a loan payment, because the latter sends a message to other borrowers that the same will happen to them. In this case it’s not the belief that borrowers should pay loans that is in question or in need of protection.

      In this case, I agree that doubling the sentence by calling it a hate crime makes the punishment disproportionate to the crime and is a miscarriage of justice. I think that if this case had occurred outside of the rash of high profile suicides in 2010 most parties would have handled it differently. The increased media scrutiny almost certainly made this an opportunity for prosecutors to make a “statement” about bullying, whether or not the facts of the case ultimately supported it.

      They can get away with this in part because the facts of the case in the public imagination are wildly different from what occurred. 9/10 people who are aware of this case would probably tell you that Ravi recorded Clementi having sex and distributed the video on the internet, and that learning of this caused Clementi to jump off the bridge. Even Heina got this first part wrong above, despite linking to a news source that explained the situation. The DA has an electoral interest in trying the imagined case rather than the real one, because it can count on the public not to investigate too closely.

  11. delictuscoeli & Buzz, I appreciate your explanations and clarifications. Deli, I especially appreciate your attempt to set the record straight regarding the facts of the case.

    Buzz, I believe I have a fair understanding of the reasons behind the advent and implementation of hate crime laws; I just don’t agree that such laws can be fairly applied, and I feel they provide the prosecution powers which erode protections for individual rights. I don’t believe that one should have to prove prosecutorial misconduct in order to justify ‘tightening up’ the law. The protections for civil liberties built into our system of jurisprudence exist to give the government as little opportunity as possible to abuse the courts. Those who designed the system incorporated these protections based on a long history of governments using whatever means at their disposal to abuse the courts. Google ‘history of the Magna Carta’ if you need proof.

    What supporters of hate crime laws argue is that an intent to intimidate a larger community is not just a motivation for a crime. It creates more victims to the extent that the targeted community is made to live in fear. It is the increased victimisation that justifies the punishment, not the beliefs of the person.

    I get this, I just don’t agree with it. Look how many words and brain cells we’ve burned up discussing this among ourselves. Based on the coherence of thoughts and logic expressed here I would estimate a fair level of intelligence and education among us–although I’m sure some of you are wondering about me ;). I would be hard pressed to believe a homophobic thug who beats up a gay man understands these concepts. Is it likely such a person hates gay people? Very! Is it likely he understand WHY he hates gay people? I doubt it. Is it likely such a person behaves violently with the understand of why he does so and with the full intent to terrorize and intimidate ALL gay people? I would be hard pressed to believe such a person enjoys that level of thought process.

    Human beings are complex, and their motivations are no less so. It’s been my experience that humans rarely act based on a single motivation, and often they don’t even fully understand the full range of motivations influencing their own behavior.

    Indeed, most people make little effort to understand the feelings which motivate them. Of those, most don’t experience enough life outside of the echo chamber they live in to realize when their feelings are inappropriate. It is rarer still for one to both realize the inappropriateness of one’s beliefs AND make the herculean effort required to change them.

    Given the rarity of such introspection, I view the presumption that one can discern another’s motivations accurately enough to assign appropriate punishment as hubris.

    It should be enough to punish the white supremacist for the act of lynching someone; further punishing him because his family and community fostered and cultivated from his childhood the bigoted hatred of the feelings he views as truth is wrong.

    It should be enough to punish the black inner-city youth for the act of beating to death a random white person; further punishing him because he was born into into the wrong side of a racially unequal society, and because his family and community have fostered and cultivated from his earliest childhood the despair, hopelessness and hatred of his oppressors which form the feelings he views as truth is wrong.

    But I understand my opinion is a minority one–at least among posters at this site. Thanks for the lively and enlightening discussion.

  12. I would like to take this out of the realm of the deadly to ask a question, to everyone.

    If three people are found guilty of simple vandalism (graffiti only, let’s say) but do so under different circumstances should they get identical sentences?

    Let’s say they are all first time offenders.

    How about if one tagged his name on a underpass, another tagged a gang symbol on a train car, and the third tagged swasikas and the word “kike” on a synagogue?

    Do you still think that they deserve equal sentences?

    Just wondering.

    1. The third example almost certainly contains an implied threat of violence, and it is reasonable to expect the rationale behind it was that of terrorizing a community. These kind of threats are not protected when they suggest imminent violence, so additional charges can and should be filed over that of vandalism.

      The second case is probably standard vandalism, but is context-dependent. If, say, this gang has a history of ethnic violence and the train car is located somewhere where the targeted community is likely to see it, then it might deserve a harsher sentence. Same if it is intended to incite conflict with another gang.

      The first case clearly doesn’t.

  13. My concern is that he doesn’t do it again, and that the university clearly shows that that type of behavior by any of its students will not be tolerated, ever. My hope for bullies is that they are rehabilitated. I have my own thoughts about sentencing. Personally, I prefer a forward looking legal system that takes probability of recidivism into account. However, I still have much to look into; it’s a complex topic.

    Also, I thought I would just say that this touched me.

    “Even those of us whose attitudes do not match our parents’ tend to keep it to ourselves in deference to the pain it would cause our parents to feel. To give a personal example, even though I am out to my parents as an atheist, they have no idea that I voted no on Proposition 8, let alone that I worked on the NoH8 Campaign. It simply does not seem worth it to be honest lest I cause more in the way of family rifts.”

    I can’t say I understand the situation, but I can sympathize. My family is Mexican Catholic, and very traditional. I don’t speak about atheism, or science (my interest and possible career), any past or current boyfriends (lest the virginity question pops up), my stance on politics or anything that reveals too much about myself because I don’t want to ruin family harmony, because here family is everything. So, when it comes to diverging from family norms, I just rather stay silent. I don’t like it; it makes me feel like a liar, but the alternative is not worth thinking about. Thank goodness for the online community.

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