By James M. O’Neill, Deon J. Hampton and Evonne Coutros, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Gay rights groups, local prosecutors, Rutgers students and others said Friday the jury got the Dharun Ravi verdict right, calling the decision an important lesson about what constitutes bullying for a new generation raised on technology that can erode privacy in ways never previously imagined.
The jury found Ravi, 20, a former Rutgers University student, guilty of privacy invasion and bias intimidation by setting up a webcam to watch his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kiss another man in their dorm room in September 2010. Clementi committed suicide just days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
“Last night I lost sleep thinking the verdict might have been otherwise,” said Steven Goldstein, CEO and chairman of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. “It is a relief to know the old defense of ‘kids will be kids’ is over.
“If the verdict had been different, young adults in this country would have gotten the signal that they can hire fancy high-paid lawyers to argue their clients were just being kids and didn’t know what they were doing,” he said. “And what a loophole that would have been to every anti-bullying law in the country.”
Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal, a national gay and lesbian rights group, said “the actions of Dharun Ravi were inexcusable and surely added to Tyler Clementi’s vulnerability and pain. The verdict demonstrates that the jurors understood that bias crimes do not require physical weapons like a knife in one’s hand.”
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli agreed.
“The deterring message today is: When you invade someone’s privacy, you face the prison term that Mr. Ravi faces,” Molinelli said. “This is not a stupid kid doing a stupid thing. This is an educated college student doing an act that our Legislature has indicated is criminal.”
The case elevated awareness and debate about the effect of new technology on privacy.
“I’m amazed by all of this technology,” said Rosemarie Favara, a retiree from Wyckoff. “You have to be a responsible person using it. The training has to come from parents not to be abusive to other children.”
Some students on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick watched the verdict announced on TV.
“I felt Ravi deserved the punishment and conviction,” said sophomore English major Chanel Mayo, adding that she expects the ruling to dominate campus discussions once students and faculty return from spring break. “When everyone comes back, it will be a big firestorm and everyone will have their opinion.”
Jordan Zavatsky, a 20-year-old biology major, said the case would be precedent-setting “for universities, for gay rights and intimidation. A lot of times in the past this would have played off as a college prank gone wrong.”
Jason Boyle, 21, a criminal justice major, agreed. “Many Rutgers students will probably be more careful of trusting roommates,” he said. “It just goes to show that anyone can commit a crime or a bad act.”
Many emphasized that while the verdict may be the right one, it was no cause for jubilation.
“It’s very tough. It’s a total tragedy here,” said Paul Vagianos, an attorney and Ridgewood restaurant owner who has lived in the village for 15 years. “Two families have lost a son. There are all losers and no winners.”