The Story of a Suicide:Two College Roommates, a Webcam, and a Tragedy and the Trial That Followed
When a bad or careless decision is made you can be sure the law of unintended and tragic consequences will be in effect.
What preceded the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi are textbook examples of fear, bigotry and hate. They weren’t seen or understood as such by the persecutors of Tyler Clementi, but in the end, that is exactly what it was. He was driven to suicide because he was relentlessly persecuted because he was gay.
To put that in proper perspective, he was persecuted because he was gay. Nothing else. It wasn’t as if he hurt anyone, was overbearing or engaged in any kind of inappropriate public behavior. Just the opposite, really. He was a kind and considerate human being, am asset to the community.
No, he was persecuted simply because of who he was.
His persecutors were not evil- just the products of a society that tolerates some kinds of discrimination, but not other kinds. Good kids who would never tolerate discrimination based on race, religion, disability, national origin or any of a myriad of other distinguishing features were unable to understand persecution of anyone based on their sexual identity is an equal evil.
Dharun Ravi grew up in Plainsboro, New Jersey, in a large, modern house with wide expanses of wood flooring and a swimming pool out back. Assertive and athletic, he used “DHARUNISAWESOME” as a computer password and played on an Ultimate Frisbee team. At the time of his high-school graduation, in 2010, his parents bought space in the West Windsor and Plainsboro High School North yearbook. “Dear Dharun, It has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person,” the announcement said. “You are a wonderful son and brother… . Keep up your good work. Hold on to your dreams and always strive to achieve your goals. We know that you will succeed.”
One day this fall, Ravi was in a courthouse in New Brunswick, fifteen miles to the north, awaiting a pre-trial hearing. In a windowless room, he sat between two lawyers, wearing a black suit and a gray striped tie. His eyes were red. Although he is only nineteen, he has a peculiarly large-featured, fully adult face, and vaguely resembles Sacha Baron Cohen. When Ravi is seen in high-school photographs with a five-o’clock shadow, he looks like an impostor.
His father, Ravi Pazhani, a slight man with metal-frame glasses, sat behind him. Some way to the right of Pazhani were Joseph and Jane Clementi. Jane Clementi, who has very straight bangs, wore a gold crucifix. She and her husband form a tall, pale, and formidable-looking couple. Their youngest son, Tyler, had died a year earlier, and the family’s tragedy was the silent focus of everyone in the room. That September, Tyler Clementi and Ravi were freshman roommates at Rutgers University, in a dormitory three miles from the courtroom. A few weeks into the semester, Ravi and another new student, Molly Wei, used a webcam to secretly watch Clementi in an embrace with a young man. Ravi gossiped about him on Twitter: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Two days later, Ravi tried to set up another viewing. The day after that, Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.
Clementi’s death became an international news story, fusing parental anxieties about the hidden worlds of teen-age computing, teen-age sex, and teen-age unkindness. ABC News and others reported that a sex tape had been posted on the Internet. CNN claimed that Clementi’s room had “become a prison” to him in the days before his death. Next Media Animation, the Taiwanese company that turns tabloid stories into cartoons, depicted Ravi and Wei reeling from the sight of Clementi having sex under a blanket. Ellen DeGeneres declared that Clementi had been “outed as being gay on the Internet and he killed himself. Something must be done.”