Olive Hoover was back in court on Friday to defend against criminal charges of bias and intimidation against Frank Ginsberg, a member of the LGBT community known to have a history of severe depression that included a failed suicide attempt. After being caught on tape verbally assaulting Mr.Ginsberg, Olive Hoover was seen to be dipping her head while crying as the transcript of the offense, witnessed by millions, was read aloud:
Olive: Why were you unhappy?
Frank: I fell in love with someone…
[interrupted by Edwin Hoover (Grandfather) blowing his nose]
Frank: …who didn’t love me back.
Frank: One of my grad students. I was very much in love with him.
Olive: *Him*? You fell in love with a boy?
Frank: Very much so.
Olive: That’s silly.
Frank: You’re right it was silly. It was very silly
Edwin: That’s another word for it.
While Edwin Hoover was charged with accessory to this assault for his role as indicated in the above transcript, additional charges were brought against him based on his own words, which created a hostile environment for a minority by using defamatory language:
Edwin: Are you kidding me? It was a … paradise. They got pool… They got golf… Now I’m stuck with Mr. Happy [Frank Ginsberg] here, sleeping on a…sofa. Look, I know you are a homo and all, but maybe you can appreciate this.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hoover passed away on a family trip before he could be indicted by a grand jury.
While the above spoof off of two scenes in Little Miss Sunshine is described in jest, there is nothing funny about the conviction of former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi for bias, invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension, and witness tampering, i.e. the events leading up to and following the suicide of his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi. We often hear complaints of media bias and double standards, but an even more insidious problem is a cultural bias that has pervaded the legal system and turned it into a weapon.
Dharun Ravi is a jerk. A big jerk. A sneaky, invasive, showboating jerk. His actions were offensive, and probably warranted expulsion from Rutgers. But a sentence of up to ten years in a criminal facility with thieves, rapists, forgers, drug dealers, et al? According to NJ state law as written, yes.
Emotions in this case have run understandably high. An innocent young man, Tyler Clementi, was the victim of a mean practical joke, and because of internal demons, took his own life. But as CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin notes, the spirit of vengeance is a dangerous bedfellow in the legal arena:
“This haunting and awful case shows how much society has changed,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin of Friday’s verdict. “Even though he was not charged directly in connection with Clementi’s suicide, that tragedy hung over the trial and undoubtedly played a major part in every aspect of the case.”
There will be a sense of satisfaction in this perceived retribution, but there are consequences any time the legal system is used to satiate the need for revenge. This incident has already prompted a new regime, both intended to pacify angry constituents and to give the appearance of action to correct what is undeniably a wrong, but one that cannot be corrected by setting in motion a series of unintended consequences where the law is no longer a measure of justice, but a tool used to retaliate against those found guilty in the court of popular opinion. Politicians feed off of and provoke the spirit by making sympathetic yet unknowable proclamations such as NJ Governor Chris Christie, when he said, “I don’t know how those two folks are going to sleep at night, knowing that they contributed to driving that young man to that alternative.” Or they introduce overly broad legislation, such as NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg and NJ Representative Rush Holt, who introduced anti-bullying legislation at the federal level, because when it comes to grievance groups, there is never enough legislation available to lash out at opponents. This steady escalation directly violates Pillar #2, prompting unnerving proclamations from publications such as the Huffington Post:
Schoolyard and lunch line bullies in New Jersey might get much heavier punishment than a trip to the principal’s office.
Rather than allowing our children to grow out of their youthful immaturity by delegating local school authorities and parents the task of negotiating their children on a case-by-case basis through the confusing journey to adulthood, we are providing them with an early introduction to the unwieldy sledgehammer of liberal legal philosophy. In the process, we mark these young children with a stain they will carry for years, making it more difficult to get a job or otherwise be a functional member of society.
“This verdict sends the important message that a ‘kids will be kids’ defense is no excuse to bully another student,” said Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality.
Unfortunately, the Little Miss Sunshines of the world will have no choice but to get it.