Dharun Ravi, the 20 year old former student from Rutger’s University who was convicted of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and witness tampering, is free after just 20 days behind bars. For those who have not been following this case, here is a bit of a recap of the happenings that led to the death of one student, and the other facing serious felony charges, just three weeks after starting as freshmen at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation.
Dharun Ravi was a known prankster who decided to position his personal webcam to capture his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, while Clementi was having an intimate encounter with another man. Not only did Dharun Ravi decide to use his rather savvy technological skills for this purpose, he also decided to broadcast what he was doing via social media, namely twitter. Further, once Dharun Ravi realized that his roommate was missing, and, later, that he had jumped to his death from the George Washington bridge, Dharun Ravi deleted tweets and tried to convince others to go along with a different version of the story, likely because he realized that this incident, particularly with the recent spotlight on the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth, would go much further than a simple campus infraction. Eventually, Dharun Ravi’s supposed “prank” got the better of him and the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office handed down a fifteen count indictment charging him with multiple crimes, including a felony charge of anti- gay bias intimidation.
Many people believe that Dharun Ravi’s being handed such a harsh indictment as a punishment for what was seemingly nothing more than a prank in a college dorm did not fit the crime, and that the current climate where LGBT rights and anti- gay bullying are daily news stories, cultivated a ripe environment for Dharun Ravi to be sacrificed in a seemingly never- ending culture war. I personally disagree. What Dharun Ravi did was a whole lot more than pull a prank in a dorm room. Bullying is a hate crime, and states like New Jersey that have strict laws regarding bias intimidation are right to treat it as such. However, despite the grave nature of the charges against Dharun Ravi, the punishment that eventually befell him most certainly did not fit the crime, and certainly not the consequences of his crime.
While no one can blame Dharun Ravi for Tyler Clementi’s decision to end his own life, we can say that knowingly spying on someone in an intimate moment is most definitely a serious crime and should be punished as such. Dharun Ravi only received twenty days of actual incarceration, three years probation, and community service. He also was relieved of the threat of deportation. Dharun Ravi is also no longer a student at Rutger’s University, but that expulsion was a school decision, not a legal one.
The object of laws involving bias intimidation is to show people with prejudices against certain groups of people that acting on whatever bias may present carries serious consequences, consequences that are much more serious than if the crime did not carry evidence of bias against certain groups of people. The punishment that Dharun Ravi received did anything but send that warning. In fact, it did quite the opposite. It shows those that might get ideas about how to humiliate LGBT people from the actions of Dharun Ravi that they will not be punished severely because they will not be charged with any resulting suicide. It also shows them that the law does not recognize the violation of privacy and basic human dignity of LGBT people as a serious crime. It also removes the peace of mind that hate crimes laws are supposed to provide to marginalized communities. If anything, this “punishment” was nothing more than a slap on the wrist, as well as an insult to the dignity of Tyler Clementi, the other countless victims of anti- gay bullying who were driven to suicide, and the marginalized communities that are supposed to gain peace of mind from the existence and enforcement of hate crimes laws.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that there is no peace and closure for Tyler Clementi’s loved ones. Dharun Ravi’s senseless, hateful, malicious actions caused a talented young man his life, and now, Dharun Ravi is free to live his own life out, with no threat of deportation, nor any real time behind bars. Less than a month behind bars for a crime that has such grave consequences and such a disgusting, bigoted bias did not teach Dharun Ravi any lesson; in fact one of the key elements of the case has been his lack of remorse. Furthermore, it teaches other anti- gay bigots who might see fit to follow in Dharun Ravi’s footsteps in similar crimes that what they do will have little to no consequence. And that, my friends, is the true travesty here at the end of this tragic incident.
By Shannon Barber; “Changing the world, one mind at a time.”