Monday, May 23, 2011

Asshole Crime

So, the trial of Dharun Ravi is moving along. Ravi, you'll recall, is accused of driving his college roommate, Tyler Clementi, to suicide after he used a webcam to spy on Clementi having a homosexual encounter. Ravi also twittered about it and allegedly live-streamed a portion of the encounter out to his twitter followers (who must be a real classy group, I'm sure). So now as a result he's being charged with 15 counts including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering, and other stuff that nobody seems to want to list. The "bias intimidation" charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The entire situation sucks. Even as a parent myself, I can only imagine the nightmare that Clementi's parents are living in. I'm sure Dharin Ravi's family is going through some tough times, too (I really know nothing about them, maybe they're rich and it's no big deal -- or maybe not, and they're mortgaging the house / tapping into their retirement nest-egg to pay legal expenses). It seems like many in the gay community want to see Ravi hang.

This is just me, but, having carefully considered all of the facts available to me, I've concluded that Ravi is guilty of being a Big Asshole. Additionally, while I don't have perfect knowledge of the events, it seems unlikely to me that Ravi could have predicted that Clementi would commit suicide.

Keeping that in mind, 10 years in prison seems excessive. I mean, here's a guy in New Jersey who got 4.5 to eight years for driving drunk and killing a 13yo girl. And apparently this is considered a tougher-than-average sentence for such a crime. Don't get me wrong, I'm not shrugging it off as "oh, kids do that stuff", I believe Ravi deserves some kind of punishment. But -- 10 years? What kind of justice is being done here?

This kind of thing comes up again and again and again in the news: Asshole Crime. Some asshole -- okay, let's be polite and call them a "Jerk" -- some Jerk gets somebody else hurt or killed, and DA goes through the statutes with a magnifying glass to come up with a set of charges that a jury might buy. I mean, "bias intimidation"? I'm not sure I even know what that means, much less that there's apparently a law against it (in NJ, at least). I think this is a waste of the justice system and taxpayer money. Perhaps it's the engineer in me, but I don't see any value in locking a jerk in prison (save "punishment for punishment's sake"), but I think society would be better served if the jerk could learn to change their ways and become a non-jerk. And for this, I have two suggestions, one "real", the other "imaginative". I'll use the Ravi / Clemente case as an example, but I'm sure you can think of any number of other examples that qualify.

First up is the Civil Suit. Ie, the Clementi family sues Dharin Ravi for driving Tyler to suicide. The jury awards damages as they feel appropriate. It's neat and simple, and even the worst of jerks hates getting hit in the wallet. Getting sued and paying damages can be a serious "learning experience".

Second, and more fun: what I really think this country needs is a Federal Asshole Registry (sorry, "Federal Jerk Registry"). The idea is, somebody does something jerk-ish, they get their name etc in the Registry for a given amount of time. And during that time, they have to go around and introduce themselves as a Registered Jerk to their neighbors (just like sex offenders). Potential employers would use it for background checks, etc.

Actually, we more-or-less sort've have a de-facto version of that right now, with Google: Search on someone's name and if they've committed any serious jerkery they'll often come up. But a genuine government-sponsored Jerk Registry would be better: it'd be harder to "game", plus it'd contain info on jerks who are deserving of the name, but somehow managed to avoid local or national news coverage, or are buried so deep in the search results list that nobody ever notices them.

Admittedly, this still leaves the problem of just how do decide who deserves a place in the Jerk Registry, and for how long. That'll take some pondering, and so I'll leave it for a future entry.

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