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Suicide of Tyler Clementi

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Suicide of Tyler Clementi

Tyler Clementi
Facebook profile picture of Tyler Clementi[1]
Born December 19, 1991[2]
Ridgewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Died September 22, 2010 (aged 18)
Fort Lee, New Jersey, U.S.
Cause of death
Suicide by jumping from height leading to drowning
Education Ridgewood High School
Rutgers University
Occupation Student

Tyler Clementi (December 19, 1991 – September 22, 2010) was an eighteen-year-old student at Dharun Ravi, and a fellow hallmate, Molly Wei, used a webcam on Ravi's computer and a computer in Wei's dorm room to view, without Clementi's knowledge, Clementi kissing another man.[3] Two days later, Ravi urged friends and Twitter followers to watch via his webcam a second tryst between Clementi and his friend, though the viewing never occurred.[4][5]

Ravi and Wei were indicted for their roles in the webcam incidents, though they were not charged with a role in the suicide itself.[6]

Clementi's death brought national and international attention to the issue of cyberbullying and the struggles facing LGBT youth.[7]

Background

Clementi was born on December 19, 1991,[2] in Ridgewood, New Jersey. A graduate of Ridgewood High School, he was a talented violinist; he played with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and participated in the Bergen Youth Orchestra as concertmaster.[8]

A few days before leaving home to attend college at Rutgers, Clementi told his parents that he was gay.[9] While his father supported him, Clementi said in an instant message to a friend that his mother had "basically completely rejected" him.[9][10] In later interviews, Clementi's mother explained that she had been "sad" and "quiet" as she processed the information and that she "felt a little betrayed" that he had not previously confided in her that he was gay. She later noted that she had not been ready as a parent to publicly acknowledge having a gay son, partly because her evangelical church had taught that homosexuality was a sin. After their conversation, she said that she and Tyler cried, hugged, and said they loved each other. Jane Clementi said that she and Clementi spent the rest of the week together and spoke frequently on the phone when he was at Rutgers. According to his mother, Tyler seemed "confident" and "comfortable" after coming out and told her of having visited New York City with new friends.[3][10][11]

Ravi and Wei met while students at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.[12] Prior to arriving at Rutgers, Ravi tried to find information about his new roommate online. Ravi referred on his Twitter account to having seen Clementi's communications on the Justusboys website, and wrote "Found out my roommate is gay." Clementi also researched his roommate and read postings on Ravi's Twitter page.[3][9] After Ravi and Clementi moved in together, they rarely interacted or spoke. Ravi's text messages to friends described Clementi as shy and awkward. Clementi's online conversations and text messages referred to his amusement at Ravi's construction of a private changing area, but Clementi said he appreciated the fact that Ravi left him alone and did not force an excessively social atmosphere.[3]

Webcam incidents

First viewings

On the nights of September 19 and 21, Clementi had asked Ravi to use their room for those evenings. On the first occasion, Ravi met Clementi's male friend, and Clementi said that the two wanted to be alone for the evening. Ravi has stated that he was worried about theft and that he left the computer in a state where he could view the webcam due to those concerns.[3][13] Other witnesses testified that Ravi said he also wanted to confirm that Clementi was gay.[14] Ravi and Wei viewed the video stream via iChat for a few seconds, seeing Clementi and his guest kissing. Later, Wei turned on the camera for another view with four others in the room, though Ravi was not there.[15] During this second viewing, Wei and others saw Clementi and his guest kissing with their shirts off and their pants on.

On September 20, Clementi, who followed Ravi's Twitter account, read a message that Ravi sent a few minutes after the webcam viewing the previous day. Ravi wrote: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."[3] According to a Rutgers employee, at about 4 a.m. on September 21, Clementi sent an online request for a single room because his "roommate used webcam to spy on me."[16]

Second attempt

On September 21, Ravi posted text messages saying that there would be a viewing party to watch Clementi and his guest, along with directions on how to view it remotely.[17] At 6:39 p.m., Ravi tweeted, "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."[3] Ravi had set up the webcam and pointed it towards Clementi's bed.[3] When Clementi returned to his room, he noticed the camera and texted a friend saying he had unplugged Ravi's powerstrip to prevent further video streaming during his date. Ravi has said that he had changed his mind regarding the broadcast and disabled the camera himself by putting the computer in sleep mode.[15]

The same day, Clementi complained to a [4]

Within a few hours, Clementi returned to his dorm room and he and Ravi were there for less than an hour.[3]

Suicide

Tyler Clementi jumped from the Hudson River.

On the evening of September 22, Clementi left the dorm room, got food, and, around 6:30 p.m., headed toward the George Washington Bridge.[3] By 8:42 p.m., Clementi had made his way to the George Washington Bridge and posted from his cell phone on Facebook, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."[3]

Clementi left a suicide note which, along with documents on his computer, was never released to either the public or to the defense team in Ravi's trial, because Clementi's suicide was not directly related to the charges against Ravi.[24]

Clementi's wallet was found on September 22 on the walkway adjacent to the bridge's eastbound lanes after witnesses reported seeing someone on the bridge. His car, cell phone, and computer were also found near the bridge. Police recovered a body on September 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge. It was confirmed the next day that the body recovered was Clementi's.[8]

The medical examiner's autopsy report cites drowning as the cause of death, and notes blunt impact injuries to his torso.[25]

Reaction

Shortly after Clementi's suicide, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network stated, "There has been heightened media attention surrounding the suicides in New Jersey, Texas, California, Indiana, and Minnesota."[26] The same month Clementi died, four other American teenagers were reported to have committed suicide after being taunted about their homosexuality,[27] although the brother of one of the deceased said he did not believe the suicide was brought on by bullying.[28]

At Rutgers

Rutgers University students planned a "Black Friday" event to commemorate and memorialize Clementi. Rutgers president Richard Levis McCormick stated, "We grieve for him and for his family, friends and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man...."[29][30]

Beginning in the 2011–2012 school year, a Rutgers University pilot program was instituted to permit students to choose their dorm roommates, regardless of gender. Members of the university's LGBTQ community told the administration that gender-neutral housing would help create a more inclusive environment for students.[31][32]

By fall 2012, Rutgers had implemented numerous new programs to provide a more supportive environment for LGBT students, in reaction to the suicide, including new dormitory options and a new Center for Social Justice Education and L.G.B.T. Communities, and students reported a much-improved campus atmosphere.[33]

Charitable

Tyler Clementi's parents, Jane and Joseph Clementi, established the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which focuses on promoting acceptance of LGBT teens and others marginalized by society, providing education against all forms of bullying including cyber bullying over the internet and promoting research and development into the causes and prevention of teenage suicide.[34]

On March 9, 2011, the [35] Clementi's parents said they hoped the scholarship would "raise awareness of young people who are subject to abuse through malicious bullying."[36]

Government

Tyler Clementi's suicide, along with the suicides of several other gay teens who had been harassed, moved President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to express shock and sadness and speak out against any form of bullying.[37] US Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey introduced federal legislation titled the "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act", to require schools that wish to receive federal funding to establish anti-bullying procedures and codes of conduct.[38][39] Harvey Silverglate, working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has criticized that bill and similar legislation for what he considers to be the creation of rights that apply to some groups of persons but not to others.[39]

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated that the suicide was an "unspeakable tragedy... I don't know how those two folks [Ravi and Wei] are going to sleep at night" and added, "as the father of a 17-year-old, I can't imagine what those parents are feeling today—I can't."[40] In response to Clementi's suicide and other, similar incidents, New Jersey General Assembly representatives Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mary Pat Angelini introduced a bipartisan "Anti-bullying Bill of Rights" in November, 2010, which passed on a 71–1 vote in the New Jersey Assembly and a 30–0 vote in the New Jersey Senate.[41]

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to provide a safe environment and equal opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.[42]

Parents' statements

The day of the announcement of the verdict in the Dharun Ravi trial, Clementi's father, Joseph, released a statement, directed particularly at young people:

You're going to meet a lot of people in your lifetime. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don't like them doesn't mean you have to work against them. When you see somebody doing something wrong, tell them: "That's not right. Stop it." The change you want to see in the world begins with you.[43]

In the same statement, Jane Clementi, Tyler's mother, noted the role that electronic media can have in singling out LGBT youth for being different. She said:

In this digital world, we need to teach our youngsters that their actions have consequences, that their words have real power to hurt or to help. They must be encouraged to choose to build people up and not tear them down.[44]

Advocacy

In the weeks following Clementi's suicide, schools around the area of his residence held vigils in memory of his death. Students at Hofstra University gathered for a candlelight vigil,[45] and students and staff at Pascack Hills High School in Bergen County, near Ridgewood where Clementi lived, wore all black to mourn his death.[46]

A commemoration called "[52] According to gay activist William Dobbs, around 10,000 people expressed support on social networking websites for lodging more serious criminal charges, such as manslaughter, against Ravi and Wei, a position that Dobbs himself criticized as a rush to judgment before an investigation had taken place.[53]

However, journalist Jason St. Amand has noted that "there are surprisingly several gay activists who are skeptical about the case and believe that Ravi is being used as a scapegoat and should receive a lesser sentence."[54] William Dobbs has criticized the use of hate crime charges and what he considers to have been a hurried scapegoating of Ravi and Wei.[55] Journalist J. Bryan Lowder has similarly criticized hate-crime laws, arguing that Ravi's motives are difficult to know, and that Ravi should not be blamed for attitudes that are "pervasive in our culture".[56] Dan Savage, co-founder of the It Gets Better Project, has written that, although he considers Ravi's actions to have been "the last straw" that triggered Clementi's suicide, he notes that Clementi's guest did not commit suicide, and concludes that there must have been additional factors, preceding the webcam incidents, contributing to the suicide. Savage says that he deplores the "mob mentality" that focuses on "a couple of stupid teenagers who should've known better but didn't." He argues that attention should also be directed toward the "adults and institutions" in society who "perpetuate anti-gay prejudice", and he concludes that to "pin all the blame" on Ravi and Wei amounts to "a coverup".[57] After Ravi was sentenced, Savage said he had been "express[ing] misgivings about the severity of the sentence that Ravi faced. But a 30 day sentence is far, far too lenient—a slap on the wrist."[58] Eric Marcus has compared his own father's suicide with Clementi's, and said that it will not be possible to know the real reasons for Clementi's suicide. He concluded that "At best, we can say that Ravi's spying and subsequent Twitter messages might have triggered Clementi's suicide, which is different from causing his suicide... We've turned Tyler Clementi into a two-dimensional symbol of anti-gay bullying and Dharun Ravi into a scapegoat. This is a case that screams out for compassion and understanding."[59]

Criticism of media coverage

Soon after invasion of privacy charges were brought against Ravi and Wei, gay advocacy groups and bloggers were vocal in their support for bringing hate-crime charges against the defendants.[60] After the prosecutors issued a public statement that they were investigating whether bias played a role in the incident, according to Chris Cuomo of ABC News, a "media floodgate of distortion" ensued.[60] Writing in The New Yorker, Ian Parker has stated that some of the media coverage and the public outcry against Ravi have exaggerated Ravi's role in the incident, writing that after Clementi's suicide "it became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online. In fact, there was no posting, no observed sex, and no closet."[3]

In popular culture

Ellen DeGeneres described herself as "devastated" by Clementi's death, stating, "Something must be done. This month alone, there has been a shocking number of news stories about teens who have been teased and bullied and then committed suicide... This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing."[61]

The band Rise Against released a song, Make It Stop (September's Children), which mentions the names of Tyler Clementi and four other people who committed suicide after being bullied based on their sexual orientation.[62]

Madonna gave tribute to Clementi by showing a picture of him during the Nobody Knows Me video interlude in the MDNA Tour.

The band Escape The Fate's music video for the song Ungrateful includes pictures of six suicide victims, including Clementi, and the words "End the cycle now."

The spoken word artist Andrea Gibson's poem The Nutritionist includes a line about Clementi.

Court case

On September 28, 2010, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei were each charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for the September 19 webcam transmission. Ravi was charged with two additional counts for the September 21 viewing attempt.[63] On April 20, 2011, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted Ravi on 15 counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence, witness tampering, and hindering apprehension or prosecution.[64]

On May 6, 2011, Molly Wei entered a plea agreement allowing her to avoid prosecution in exchange for her testimony against Ravi, 300 hours of community service, counseling, and classes on dealing with people of alternative lifestyles.[65][66]

On March 16, 2012, Dharun Ravi was tried and convicted on all 15 counts for his role in the webcam spying incidents.[67] On May 21, 2012, Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 3 years probation, 300 hours of community service, a $10,000 fine, and counseling on cyberbullying and alternate lifestyles.[68] Both the prosecutors[69] and Ravi[70] have filed separate appeals. It is expected to be at least mid-2014 before any appeal will be heard.[71] On June 18, 2012, Ravi was released from jail after 20 days of his sentence.[72] Federal immigration authorities have said that Ravi will not be deported to India.[73]

See also

References

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  2. ^ a b "Vander Plaat Funeral Home". Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Parker, Ian (February 6, 2012). "The Story of a Suicide". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Jonathan Lemire, Michael J. Feeney And Larry McShane (1 October 2010). "He Wanted Roomie Out Rutgers Suicide Complained Of Video Voyeur Before Fatal Fall". Daily News (New York). p. 2. 
  5. ^ Hu, Winnie (October 1, 2010). "Debate Over Charges in Rutgers Student’s Suicide".  
  6. ^ Alice Gomstyn (Mar 22, 2012). "Rutgers’ Ravi: ‘I Wasn’t the One Who Caused Him to Jump’". ABC News. 
  7. ^ Forderaro, Lisa (September 29, 2010). "Invasion of Privacy Charges After Death of Tyler Clementi - NYTimes.com".  
  8. ^ a b Ebbels, Kelly (2010-10-01). "Tragic end for a true talent".  
  9. ^ a b c Star Ledger Staff (August 12, 2011). "New details revealed in Rutgers webcam suicide case". NJ.com. Retrieved August 23, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Tyler Clementi Felt Rejected by Mom | Out Magazine". Out.com. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  11. ^ Zernike, Kate (August 24, 2012). "After gay son’s suicide, mother finds blame in herself and in her church". New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  12. ^ Lohr, David (September 29, 2010). "Student Kills Himself After Sex Webcast; 2 Charged". AOL News. Retrieved May 6, 2011. 
  13. ^ Gardiner, Sean (August 12, 2011). "New Claims in Spy Case". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  14. ^ Sudol, Karen (Feb. 27, 2012). "Former defendant Molly Wei: Other students viewed Rutgers webcam-video". N.J.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Mark Di Ionno (March 21, 2012). "'"Exclusive interview with Dharun Ravi: 'I'm very sorry about Tyler. Star-Ledger. 
  16. ^ Nate Schweber (February 27, 2012). "In Rutgers Case, Testimony About Text Message Exchange". New York Times. 
  17. ^ Schweber, Nate (March 5, 2012). """Rutgers Defendant Wrote of Keeping "Gays Away. New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2012. 
  18. ^ Judy Peet (3 October 2010). "Rutgers student Tyler Clementi's suicide spurs action across U.S". NJ.com. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  19. ^ "Authorities subpoena Rutgers for e-mails regarding Tyler Clementi complaint of roommate's webcam". Star-Ledger. October 6, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  20. ^ Star-Ledger Staff (February 29, 201). "Clementi seemed 'uncomfortable' when he reported conflict with Ravi, resident assistant testifies". Star-Ledger. 
  21. ^ Aleksi Tzatzev; Anastasia Millicker (March 1, 2012). "Ravi uses friend’s laptop to set up webcam viewing". Daily Targum. 
  22. ^ Gene Racz (February 29, 2012). "Rutgers dormmate testifies he helped Ravi set up webcam". USA Today. 
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  24. ^ Emily Bazelon (March 13, 2012). "Should Dharun Ravi Have Testified?". Slate. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  25. ^ LINSEY DAVIS (@LinseyDavis) and EMILY FRIEDMAN (@EmilyABC) (Sep 30, 2010). "NJ Gov. Wonders How Rutgers 'Spies' Can Sleep at Night After Tyler Clementi's Suicide". ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  26. ^ "GLSEN, PFLAG, The Trevor Project Release Statement on Recent Tragedies". Glsen.org. 30 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  27. ^ Richard James (1 October 2010). "US gay community reeling from 'epidemic' of suicides among teenagers". London: Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
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  31. ^ Rutgers University Pilot Program
  32. ^ Rochman, Bonnie (March 3, 2011). "Guys and Gals Sharing Dorm Rooms: Rutgers Okays 'Gender-Neutral' Housing to Help Gays Feel Safer".  
  33. ^ Kaminer, Ariel (September 21, 2012). "Since Suicide, More Resources for Transgender and Gay Students". New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2012. 
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  35. ^ "Point Foundation Creates Scholarship in Memory of Tyler Clementi". PRNewswire-USNewswire. March 9, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2011 
  36. ^ "The Tyler Clementi Point Scholarship".  
  37. ^
    • Ron Powers (October 22, 2010). "Obama Shocked, Saddened by Youth Suicides". [US News and World Report], via Associated Press. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
    • Jesse McKinley (October 3, 2010). "Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers". The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
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    • Brian Bond (October 21, 2010). "President Obama: It Gets Better".  
  38. ^ "Press Release: Lautenberg, Holt Introduce Legislation to Prevent Harassment on College Campuses". March 10, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2012. 
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  40. ^ Friedman, Matt (2010-09-30). "'"Gov. Christie calls Tyler Clementi's suicide an 'unspeakable tragedy.  
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  48. ^ Potter, Chuck (October 23, 2010). "Bullies can't stand up to the power of purple".  
  49. ^ Christ, Lindsay (October 20, 2010). "Spirit Day—the Day to Wear Purple".  
  50. ^ Heussner, Ki Mae (October 20, 2010). "Spirit Day: Facebook Users Wear Purple".  
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  54. ^ St. Amand, Jason (April 4, 2012). "Ravi Finds Unlikely Defenders: Gay Activists". Edge. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
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  56. ^ Lowder, J. Bryan (March 20, 2012). "Did Dharun Ravi Really Commit a Hate Crime?". Slate. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  57. ^ Dan Savage (Oct 2, 2010). "Who Killed Tyler Clementi?". SLOG. Retrieved March 27, 2012. 
  58. ^ Dan Savage (May 21, 2012). "Dharun Ravi Sentenced to 30 Days". Slog. 
  59. ^ Marcus, Eric (March 30, 2012). "Dharun Ravi wrongly blamed for Tyler Clementi's suicide". NJ Star-Ledger. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
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  68. ^ http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/05/dharun_ravi_sentenced_for_bias.html
  69. ^ Ashley Hayes (May 21, 2012). "Prosecutors to appeal 30-day sentence in Rutgers gay bullying case". CNN. 
  70. ^ "Notice of Appeal".  
  71. ^ Sue Epstein (June 11, 2012). "Dharun Ravi files notice of intent to appeal conviction in Rutgers webcam spying case". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved June 11, 2012. 
  72. ^ Kate Zernike (June 19, 2012). "Jail Term Ends After 20 Days for Ex-Rutgers Student". New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  73. ^ "Dharun Ravi won't be deported to India". 19 June 2012. 

External links

  • The Tyler Clementi Point Scholarship
  • The Tyler Clementi Foundation
  • Tyler Clementi at Find a Grave
  • John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer (2 November 2005). "No easy death: Suicide by bridge (Part 4 of a 7-part series)". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
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