Do Parents of Tyler Clementi Deserve a Say in His Bullying Case?

Jeanne Sager
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court caseTyler Clementi's parents want to have a say in how justice is meted out for their son. It seems only fair -- bullied for being gay, their son took his own life last year, prompting intense media scrutiny and opening up a whole new dialogue about being gay and young in America. They're in an intense amount of pain.

Which makes it worth asking: should they get to have a say in criminal proceedings against his bullies? Traditionally that's a part of the prosecution's process: to ascertain what a victim's family wants in order to achieve "justice" for them. But there's a reason we call on legal systems to address our crimes -- because they're unbiased. They can look at facts and walk a clear path to justice. Victims' families generally can't.

This is not to be cruel. Whenever I hear that a child has died, two things float through my mind at once: "Where is my kid? I need to hug her" just barely edges out "oh, those poor parents!" And so it was when I heard about Clementi. I wondered: how would his parents deal with the loss of a child?

Fast forward several months, and Jane and Joseph Clementi are juggling like mad. They've been faced with a "media crush" as they've termed the attention toward their son's death. They've been building a foundation in his name. They've been dealing with police and prosecutors. And they seem ... well, undecided.

The Clementis simultaneously announced this week that they want to see the criminal case against Tyler's former roommate, Dharun Ravi, who set up a webcam and streamed video of Tyler having sex with another man, proceed. Ravi has been charged with an invasion of privacy (as has another dorm resident, Molly Wei), but prosecution hasn't moved along since Tyler's death in September. Understandable -- the quicker the case makes its way through the courts, the closer the family gets to closure. They want it established that their son "was subject to criminal acts, not merely a college prank, as some may argue."

So -- they want tougher charges, right? Erm, maybe not. The Clementis ALSO said they don't want a "harsh punishment" for Ravi. Which seems at odds with their push to get this thing a' moving. If you don't want it "harsh," why not just drop the case?

I'm not inside their heads, so I can only guess at the mixed messages. It's quite possible that the fact that their son was bullied plays a role here: they don't want to come across as bullies themselves. Or maybe they believe backing off on the penalty will get the case into the courts, as prosecutors won't feel pressured to investigate so thoroughly and rack up more charges against Ravi.

Regardless, Tyler Clementi's parents are putting up two arguments for one thing. It's natural -- they lost their child, they're in pain. I DON'T FAULT THEM IN THE LEAST BIT. They're too close to this case to pick one clear path.

But that doesn't help prosecutors who are trying to "look out for the victim here." They need one answer. Not two distinct paths.

His parents deserve to have their say on what happened to him. It's an important part of the healing process. But they need to let the authorities do their jobs -- because that's the only way "true" justice can be served.

Do you think prosecutors should bend to the will of a victim's parents?

 

Image via Keith Burtis/Flickr

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