In late September 2010, many — myself included — were disturbed by the story coming out of Rutgers University regarding a gay freshman named Tyler Clementi who committed suicide (jumping off the George Washington bridge) after he learned his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had used a hidden webcam to secretly film Clementi engaging in homosexual behavior.
The New Yorker has a lengthy piece which separates the early reporting from the actual facts in the case. Among the revelations:
* The web video was never actually broadcast, and Clementi apparently knew it wasn't broadcast.
* Dharun Ravi, while culpable in many ways, wasn't particularly homophobic and didn't have a problem with his roommate's sexuality.
* Molly Wei, who was indicted with Ravi, had very little to do with the webcam transmission.
* There were two instances where Ravi had set up the webcam to "spy" on Clementi (occurring within two days of each other). Clementi caught on to it after the first instance, but the people he told about it have since said that he didn't seem suicidal about it.
* Clementi was having a hard time adjusting to freshman life at Rutgers
* Clementi had "come out" to his parents only a few days earlier. While his father took it relatively well, his mother — whom he adored — was less welcoming of the news.
* Clementi may have contemplated suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge before the events with his roommate took place.
The common belief at the time the story broke was that Ravi "bullied" his roommate to such an extent that Clementi committed suicide. However, this seems not to be the case, and prosecutors have had a hard time making Ravi culpable for Clementi's death. He has been charged with invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. Bias intimidation is a sentence-booster that attaches itself to an underlying crime—usually, a violent one. Here the allegation, linked to snooping, is either that Ravi intended to harass Clementi because he was gay or that Clementi felt he’d been harassed for being gay.
But there are very few facts to show that Ravi intended to specifically harass Clementi for his sexuality, in part because Ravi did not intend for the webcam to be discovered. (Ravi has also been charged with witness tampering and evidence tampering, relating to his attempts after he realized that Clementi had killed himself, to delete certain tweets and to tell Molly Wei what to share with investigators).
This isn't to say that Ravi isn't guilty. He clearly was a grade-A asshole. But a bigot? Probably not. A bully? It's questionable. Which almost makes the suicide of Tyler Clementi more tragic, if not more mysterious.
Kudos to The New Yorker for adding facts to a matter which, like most sensationalist matters, is never as cut-and-dried or black-and-white as we think.