What should happen to the Rutgers students who livestreamed a roommate having sex, spurring him to suicide?
This isn’t the first time the question of criminal consequences for an action like this one has come up, and doubtless it won’t be the last. But the question of when “the last” might come is the question that matters.
Jail, expulsion from Rutgers, financial liability. At least two out of those three is likely to come to pass, and probably all three should. I wish there was some way to ensure, either with the authority of the state or the civic pressure of our society, that something else followed, possibly instead of any of those consequences.
I hate it when a public official is forced to confront a scandal and says something like “I claim full responsibility” or “The buck stops here”. Much as I hate it when a celebrity faux-apologizes, a defendant reads off a lawyer-written bullet-list of regrets, anything that uses the rhetoric of apology to try to cap the well after a crime or misdeed, to “move on”.
“Claiming full responsibility” should be a lifelong sentence. Not to wear a sackcloth and ashes or a scarlet letter, not to stand abashed before a hostile crowd repeating a memorized confession under the watchful eyes of minders. It should be a sentence to work tirelessly to make it right, and never give up until it is.
The worst thing about a society that has fully monetized liability is not that people lawyer up and withhold apologies until the attorneys have worked out just how much cash the guilty party owes. The worst thing is that we’ve amputated everything else from the idea of responsibility.
What I’d like is that the two Rutgers students spend the rest of their lives talking in public about what they did, and how what they did touches on all of our lives, and maybe implicates more of us than we’d like to admit. I watched and chortled at the Star Wars Kid: I bet you did too. Didn’t we help to make a world where it’s slightly more permissible to think of humiliating someone with a viral video?
What I’d like is that the two Rutgers students have to work in everything they do for a more humane culture, for a wiser use of communicative media. I’d like them to have a special charge to live and teach the Golden Rule to their children, their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, their communities, to any stranger who will listen and maybe even those who’d rather not.
I want this for everyone who causes this kind of pain to the world. I want state officials and policemen who prosecuted innocent men on flimsy evidence that is exposed later by genetic testing to have to spend the rest of their lives trying to make it right for the justice system, to dedicate themselves to fixing the problem. You can’t apologize for stealing someone’s life, and no payment can really compensate. Make it better, make it never happen.
I want company executives whose carelessness destroys communities, lives, whole economies, to have to make it right. Not to be thrown in jail or pay off hush money or weep on television. I want them to plug the holes, clean up the system, become the most tireless of reformers.
Of course this is not going to happen on that scale. But maybe, just maybe, we could make a small start with these two small, cruel people.