Eighteen year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers and a talented musician, took his own life on September 22 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His suicide came after two other students (including his roommate) had arranged to video-tape his assignations with another man--apparently Mr. Clementi was a homosexual. Those videos were streamed live and without Mr. Clementi's knowledge. Both of the students involved in the illegal surveillance have been arrested and released on bond.
This story is a tragedy. A young man is dead, an apparently talented, young, sympathetic man. Two incredibly foolish and malevolent students have been arrested and are likely to face considerable retribution for their role in this man's suicide. All in all, a horrible thing has happened, and many lives will forever be changed.
Into the breach of this tragedy--in order to add much needed definition and nuance--steps one Steven Goldstein of the gay-rights group "Garden State Equality" whose group has released a press-release informing us, according to this report, that Mr. Clementi's death was a hate crime (point of fact, the release does not actually call it a hate crime--it refers to a "hate related" death)
I rage against the death of Tyler Clementi--but I rage also at the use of the term "hate crime", and more insidiously, the characterization under the law of crimes committed under the rubric of "hate". A free society should not prosecute people for what they THINK--only for what they DO. Adding punishment or specifying penalties associated with "hate" crimes moves the society dangerously toward the prosecution of "thought crime". Mr. Clementi's video assailants have committed crimes and society should exact retribution therefrom. They should do so because a man was videotaped without his consent in what a reasonable person could conclude was a private setting. That's it. Nothing more. That they may have been motivated by attitudes toward his conduct is IMMATERIAL. Society NEEDS nothing more than the proof that they videotaped Mr. Clementi--they need not know what the videographers had in their hearts and minds when they performed the act.
Human life is sacred, whether it is a homosexual musician in New Jersey, a pretty high school girl in Aruba, or an anonymous body turning up in a large city. What causes death--and the reaction it causes in observers--are very human phenomena. But prosecuting murder/death/crime "differently" because the victim was a homosexual, or young and pretty, or rich and famous--is just not right.