Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince, two high profile suicides, two high profile cases that galvanized the nation against the national epidemic of bullying, trying to staunch the torment kids go through daily walking school halls. But now looking at verdicts in both cases, media has gone from Dharun Ravi face of evil to Dharun Ravi another victim. Likewise seeing a summary of the Prince case with new eyes thanks to a Dateline excusive putting all the pieces together, using the deep investigatory information of other reporters, it raises questions about whether or not the defendants known as the South Hadley six, were actually the cause of Prince’s death, the claim by the prosecution. Fortunately for those students a deal was reached that included no jail time, but they had to stand up in court and detail the mean things they did to this young girl. Dharun Ravi wasn’t so lucky he was convicted on all 15 counts of his indictment; the most damaging bias intimidation carrying up to a 10 year prison sentence. However, as Ravi speaks out, new details emerge, similar to the Prince case; does it constitute a situation of bully faces justice or a case of teens’ bad decision making on both sides, kids having problems before they ever encountered the situations leading to their deaths, from which legal charges have stemmed for those accused, more young lives paying the price for a different kind a culture war, trends of people wanting to look tough on hot button public issues? Examining the latest it appears to be the latter, some parts the press got wrong, some they never knew… until now.
Go here to view complete exclusive interview with Dharun Ravi
Shockingly revealed in a 20/20 interview were some facts either missed by the press or lost in the glaring headlines; one Ravi did not out Tyler Clementi. According to him, Tyler brought his date, known in court papers as M. B., to the room introduced him to people in the vicinity and had no problem explaining who he was to Tyler. Two, hearing Ravi’s account, the first webcam spying incident was an accident, in terms of seeing Tyler and guest kissing, after which he immediately shuts off the camera, and both web cam episodes were motivated by a mistrust of M.B. who acted suspicious, Ravi would later think might be a predator, described him as creepy, not because of his obvious sexual orientation, but his behavior, averting his eyes, glancing around, appearing nervious. In fact hearing the testimony of witnesses at trial the pointing and laughing, supposedly corroborating the anti-gay feelings of Ravi, was due more to M.B.’s age, estimated by students at around 30, than the knowledge that he and Tyler were gay. Next, despite social media bragging, he never posted either a video of Tyler kissing, having sex with M.B or anyone else online only talking about it. Neither did he have a viewing party showing off webcam footage live or previously collected, again independent of online postings. Regarding the texts, tweets and Facebook postings many say convicted him, Ravi asserts that most things posted on line, by everyone, not just himself, are not done seriously, are sarcastic, explaining his earlier digital comment that his roommate was gay or another posting sating roommate’s with a dude, yay; at the same time, Tyler posted a message about Ravi calling him Asian and stereotyping his parents as owning a Dunkin Doughnuts, showing both students understood the use of social media in that context, even if the public, jurors didn’t. As for the deletion of texts, tweets and social media postings prompting the evidence and witness tampering, he says he was trying to fix what happened; one deleted text was to Molly Wei pleading with her to tell the police the first web cam recording was an accident. He was also under the impression this was a school infraction not a legal or criminal matter; proving what I said in my original piece about the Rutgers tragedy (https://indiemusicnews.com/blog/2010/current-trends-59/), we do a poor job of informing, specifically young people, of the law.
Legal analysts too were surprised by the verdict seeing as he wasn’t charged under New Jersey’s now tough anti-bullying law, but for invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. Some were caught off guard by the law in terms of a jury being able to convict, which they did, if they conclude Clementi felt intimidated independent of Ravi’s intent. Seemingly ignored in the guilty verdict on all counts, including the most serious one, was the string of witnesses who testified Ravi showed no hate toward homosexuals even liked Tyler as a person, called him a nice guy. Ravi subsequently feels used by everyone, something that seems very true; he was used by anti-bullying campaigns as the face of torment driving our kids to their deaths, he was made an example of by prosecutors to look engaged in preventing further issues of this kind, to look tough on evil bullies causing such horrific consequences. Nearly any juror hearing the case is almost automatically going to side with the victim, especially considering the ultimate outcome, yet jurors speaking out say that, as per legal instructions, they did not consider Clementi’s suicide as part of their decision. 20/20 of course questioned the validity of such statements. One juror, an alternate, made post-verdict headlines by saying to news media he would not have agreed to convict on bias intimidation, relieved he wasn’t on the jury, responsible for the final decision. And Ravi gained a surprising supported after the verdict; Dan Savage, author of the It Gets Better Campaign aimed at helping gay, bullied youth, pointed out it’s as if we are too quick to put all the blame on Ravi and Wei, instead of addressing the larger cultural, social problem of how we make gay people feel, how hard we make it for them to come out and live as who they are. Another serious question, how can we have a law that says you can convict someone of intimidation, sans their intent to do so, sans actions directly focused on intimidation; in other words, when did we suddenly become responsible for anyone’s feelings but our own? Nor was it like Ravi waved copies of the texts, tweets, e-mails under Tyler’s nose as he tried to jump off the G.W. Bridge, he shouted to the world Tyler way gay to anyone present at the scene or did any such thing on campus either. So he said his roommate was gay in a post; that doesn’t mean he had a problem with it or that anyone knew who he or his roommate were, as there is no evidence publicly presented showing either young man’s name was used online.
Read here about the alternative juror’s feelings regarding the bias intimidation charge
On the other side, much of what Tyler Clementi felt or didn’t feel remains a mystery; obviously he was troubled based on his suicide. And unfortunately with that trouble came some not so good decision making; dating an older guy possibly from the internet, having a romantic encounter in your dorm room. For all the anxiety, intimidation and negativity Tyler Clementi supposedly felt from Ravi, he arranged a second date in the very same dorm room. Further, actions he took i.e. requesting a room change were initially unknown to Ravi; when he did know he sent Cleminti a text explaining he had no issue with his sexuality that he didn’t have to change rooms. Additionally upon hearing Tyler was missing his immediate thought was M.B. had done something to him. In light of those facts detailed, explained in paragraphs here, displaying the clear mindset of Ravi, why he was charged with more than 2 counts of invasion of privacy for the 2 webcam episodes is baffling; 15 counts, what did they charge him for every text, tweet he deleted in order to “cover up” his crime, a logical question for the public outside this case. Bought to light by 20/20 was information that puts the death of Tyler Clementi in a different perspective because, even though he wasn’t talking to Ravi about his concerns, had only gone to his RA about a room change once, he was continually writing online not so much about Ravi but about his depression, loneliness and rejection he felt from his parents after coming out, all things did contribute to his troubles, could explain his suicide far more than comments, actions or film attributed to his “bigoted” roommate. In fact 90 plus percent of people who attempt or succeed in committing suicide have a mental illness at the time. Simultaneously not seen by the defense or jurors, a note found in Tyler’s backpack, that may or may not have better explained why he committed suicide, any feelings he had toward the incident with his roommate. Still the case was brought, still we want to ruin another young man’s life and, make no mistake, the case was brought because Tyler Clementi died. Not only that, we call this potential 10 year prison sentence, creating convicted felon out of a 20 year old trying to protect his belongings, know what was going on in his own dorm room, and in an indirect way, protect his roommate too justice for Tyler, justice for gay people, a deterrent to like behavior; none of which is true. The only thing accomplished was to shatter two other people’s lives by misapplying laws meant for violent members of the KKK, Aryan Nation type groups, to a college kid who did something stupid. Because, Tyler Clementi didn’t die as a result of Dharun Ravi outing him to the world, didn’t die as a victim of Ravi’s homophobic hatred leading him to intimidate Clementi, make his college life hell; Tyler Clementi died because he was a lonely, depressed freshman dealing with his first extended stay away from home, who didn’t know there where resources out there for him, didn’t know he should seek professional help for his ongoing mental state. Tyler Clementi died because that pressure along with the perceived rejection from his parents after his coming out got to be too much for him; Tyler Clementi ultimately died because he couldn’t handle being gay.
Read the contents in the link below for a less hyped view of the Ravi verdict
Phoebe Prince is a similar case only this time with a history of far more deep seated mental health problems, lingering behavioral traits and issues, not only in Prince herself but at least one of the girls criminally charged in relation to her death. Revealed in a Dateline exclusive drawing, in part, from a 2010 article series by Emily Bazelon, viewers find out that Phoebe had problems at her former boarding school in Ireland, so much so she changed schools, was diagnosed clinically depressed and placed on medication before ever coming to America or South Hadley. Continuing she also had a history of cutting prior to her time in the states, something she resumed when problems arose here; her parents were separating. Regardless of the accuracy of the legal, marital separation claims, the family was physically separated, pointing to a girl who desperately missed her father. Delving into what led to the bullying, and according to media, her death, she had a history of clashing with students an ocean away just like she did here. When investigators set out to find what had made other girls so vicious to someone so vulnerable, they discovered it was over boys, older boy’s Phoebe was dating or friends with, a habit that caused her problems in Ireland as well, because the boys she gravitated towards already were in relationships. This 15 year old was dating, attracted the attention of, wanted to date seniors 17-18 years old, made it appear, intentionally or not, by her friendships with these young men, she wanted to be, and was, in an intimate relationship with at least one. During her 5 month stay in America before her tragic death her mother renewed her prescription for Prozac, the reason the party Bazelon was vilified for bringing up was mentioned, because it was at the party she admitted to smoking pot, apparently alerting her mother to a problem hints the prescription along with what followed, an evaluation at a nearby mental health clinic where they placed her on the mood stabilizer Seroquel. She also had a prior suicide attempt weeks before her death where she swallowed an entire bottle of said mood stabilizer and was in the hospital for a week with organ failure; information known by the school social worker/crisis counselor.
Click below to view the full Dateline episode
Now all of the evidence here may lead some to say it’s an iron clad reason never to bully; the problem with that is we don’t wear bar codes disclosing our medical, mental health status and current emotional state. And while no one is justifying the bullying, the calling her a slut, the torment she endured, and certainly no one is saying she should have had to die for it, neither was there a gang of bullies running wild, running the show at South Hadley High School. But worse than Dahrun Ravi, these kids were being directly implicated in causing the death of a fellow student. According to Bazelon, the students she interviewed people saw it, not as the typical mob, group, gang of kids associated with bullying, but as Phoebe got into separate confrontations with different kids; statements that line up with the individuals charged, the girlfriends of 2 the boys she was involved with, a friend of each of those girls along with the 2 boys themselves. Further in poor taste or not it must be said, the comments about Phoebe being a slut, while mean, inappropriate and uncalled for are not simply made up; during the same 5 months in America she dated and had sex with one person, was friends with another, possibly leaning toward more, until he broke off whatever their relationship to return to his on again off again girlfriend who was uncomfortable with whatever happed, though he denies ever having sex with Phoebe. At the time of her death she was friends with a third young man who she showed her cuts to. From their point of view the statements have merit, are accurate. What would we call a woman who exhibited the same behavior, what would we call a woman who always seemed to be around men who were married, engaged, living with a partner; now imagine you’re a teenager in your first serious relationship, feeling more grown up than ever and here comes Phoebe. They used the words they knew; what they didn’t know was her actions may have stemmed from her emotional problems, can be indicative of borderline personality or bipolar disorder. The revelation she showed her cuts to the last boy she was friends with has become an argument by a commenter on one of the many op-ed pieces surrounding this that seeing the cuts, when they were presumably naked before having sex, should have tipped off the first boy she had problems and maybe he shouldn’t have slept with her. However Bazelon’s take seems much more realistic that none of these kids could foresee the consequences their freely acknowledged mean, cruel actions would have upon themselves, never mind Phoebe. Most adults don’t know what to do with a kid who is cutting; how was an 18 year old supposed to know? Plus we don’t know what explanation she had for the first or last young man she showed her cuts to; all we know is she came to school the day she died with a cut and the social worker did not believe the story Phoebe gave, contacted her mother, later that day Phoebe was dead before mother and daughter had a chance to talk about it.
Check out link below to read Bazelon’s 3 part article on the case
Looking at the complete picture more questions arise around Phoebe’s parents than her classmates, their moral upbringing; like why they thought throwing their already troubled kid into not just a new school, but a new country, culture was a good idea. The father seemed blatantly in denial about the mental health of his daughter just before and during her stay in the U.S. when he described her for Dateline as an adaptable kid, thought she would have no problem in a new environment yet admitted she had been to counseling in Ireland but refuted the medication claim, though Bazelon got said information from court records. He didn’t perceive the swallowing of the bottle of Seroquel as a suicide attempt because she told her mother immediately after, calling it instead a cry for help; however, it is common among those who do attempt suicide to suddenly realize they want to live. Often suicide is not a wish for death but a cry for help, a wish for the pain they feel to stop. So you have here a kid with a history of unhealthy interactions with boys, where was any parental conversations about I don’t want you dating a boy more than one year older than you, conversations about sex, what to do if you feel pressured to have sex, the fact that I don’t want you to have sex right now, you’re too young, you have too much to do, graduate high school, go on to college, not become pregnant, any religious views the family had? Where was the family conversation about safe sex, the birds and the bees, about the dangers of drugs? Why was her prescription for Prozac stopped; was it done under a doctor’s supervision, because if it wasn’t it might explain her erratic behavior. Suddenly going off that type of medication is also a recipe for potential suicide or suicide attempt; when she was evaluated, did the doctor who gave her the mood stabilizer know what she was already taking, factor in the fact she had recently smoked pot, all good questions with little known answers. Assuming her mother informed the doctors of the meds, the pot incident, if Phoebe didn’t, was the doctor she saw competent? Not to be accusatory but, how well was she watched by her mother, family support system in light of the medication added? Did she need a medication adjustment; was she having behavioral medication reaction that contributed to her death, again all good questions with virtually no answers.
Many scream about the inaction of the school to protect Phoebe, stop the bullying, provide her help, but they aren’t the only ones; she was evaluated by a doctor and given a mood stabilizer, incidentally before the bulk of the buying started, what did they miss? Even more glaringly, how is it she spent a week in the hospital experiencing organ failure in November and was seemingly given a clean bill of physical health then sent back to school without the typical remand in the hospital psyche ward? Returning to the administrators at the school, independent of what they didn’t know about Phoebe Prince’s mental health, based on what they did know, why wasn’t she seeing the school counselor, if not also seeing a counselor elsewhere, someone suggesting an alternative school, perhaps an institutional stay, at least more in depth evaluation? Prosecutors failed to provide justice for anyone when they had a victim who was new to the country, new to the culture, dealing with her parent’s separation, has a history of mental illness coupled with a diagnosis, a history of cutting, a history of recreational drug use, was on 2 psychiatric medications, but we’re going to say 6 kids’ mean comments lead to her suicide, not her existing mental illness, not perhaps the medications she was prescribed added to the pot she admittedly smoked, all effecting mood, changing behavior, not the longing for her father, not the adjustment to a totally different place, even one of which could have pushed most teens toward trying to take their own life. It seems the bullying was just one, was the last in a long line of issues that could have caused her to choose death, compounded her desire to do so. Still charges were brought; no one could figure out, and Bazelon could get no answer as to why, boy 2 was charged with statutory rape when he says they never had sex and no evidence countering the claim was given to the public, the media. The prosecutor who eventually took over got rid of the most serious charges, including the statutory rape leveled against both boys, created a plea deal meaning no jail time, however forcing all of them to stand up in court and detail what they did to Phoebe, satisfying her devastated parents. Yes it shouldn’t have happened yes it is a sad story, but as Bazelon pointing out, just not the one we were originally told.
Sadly too putting these college kids, trying to put these teens in jail, doesn’t propel the larger conversations about the right way to handle situations, be you a teen or an adult, the best way to handle bullying in a school setting, awareness about both mental illness and teen crisis, how to prevent things like what happened to Tyler and Phoebe by empowering parents and young people with information. Hate crimes laws are not there to punish jerks, assholes; civil rights laws were never meant to be stretched to include meanness, cruelty with words, actions, personalities best described by the word bitch. Zealotry style prosecuting does nothing but create more criminals rather than put interactive videos and tutorials into college, teen and tween hands on dorm etiquette, how to get along with people the complete opposite of you in such a small setting, shy vs. outgoing, straight vs. gay, from completely different cultures. It does nothing to demonstrate feasible scenarios on misuse of technology like webcams, things that can land you in jail, how off campus life in off campus housing can effect your on campus life, get you arrested, that you are an adult now and you can be charged with hefty crimes that will ruin your life. For teens and tweens added tutorials on what constitutes bullying, what to do with a friend who is cutting, behavior that could indicate a mental illness, a crisis. Perhaps even more tutorials for the adults who are truly guilty of violating Phoebe Prince’s civil rights by not suggesting she be removed from a mainstream high school, where she never should have been considering the extent of her mental health problems, and placed in a school environment with trained counselors on hand, support groups, things of that nature. All preventive measures even more important with a case like hers because, tragically unless you treat the underlying mental illness and treat it effectively, her suicide is almost predictable, meaning even if she had never been bullied anything could have driven her to the attempt, something her parents told she couldn’t have or do, a bad grade, no date for the school dance, a normal brake up with a boyfriend independent of if he’s not so nice. Translation, Phoebe wasn’t bullied to death, she didn’t die because people said mean things to her, made her school life hell based on the fact she was new, she was Irish. Phoebe died because no one understood the extent of her mental illness, because of that poorly treated mental illness.