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Dharun Ravi and the Debate Over the (In)Justice of Hate Crime Laws

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student who spied on Tyler Clementi and contributed to Tyler's death, received a sentence of 30 days in jail and 3 years of probation. He is to perform 300 hours of community service, undergo counseling, and pay a $10,000 fine that will go to an organization providing assistance to victims of bias crimes. This sentence is significantly more lenient than the decade in jail Mr. Ravi could have received.

Dharun_Ravi_AP120521111613_480x360I agree with Nathaniel Frank over at the Huffington Post, who said that Mr. Ravi's behavior was "inexcusable." His actions surely contributed to Clementi's death" and "were malicious, irresponsible, dehumanizing, and criminal." And yet, like Mr. Frank, I was almost "relieved" to hear that Mr. Ravi would not face the maximum sentence. I would have been somewhat more satisfied with a few-month sentence rather than a one-month sentence, but that is not the point. In a previous, somewhat controversial prior column on the Tyler tragedy, I argued what Mr. Frank would argue later: That we have to be careful not to focus our search for justice solely on one individual where greater social forces are to blame and then prematurely congratulate ourselves and wash our hands of the responsibility to address those social problems once Mr. Ravi's trial is over.

Here's part of Mr. Frank's take, worded much more artfully than mine:

While Ravi must take responsibility for his actions, we are all accountable, not just him. Anti-gay sentiment lies deep within many, perhaps most, of us, as does an atavistic urge to denigrate and exclude out-group members. The fact that this may be our hardwiring -- evolved from a time when we lived in tribes of 50 to 100 closely related individuals -- in no way justifies indulging those impulses, but it does remind us that we have to fight against them rather than pretending they don't exist and acting like those who exhibit our darker side are outliers. And punishing one dumb kid for failing to rein in his dark side primarily serves to make us feel better when it shouldn't, to shift the burden of responsibility to anyone but ourselves. How did the 20-year-old Ravi grow up in a world where he thought any of this was OK and might even win him praise?

While Mr. Frank's column touches on the sociological forces that created the circumstances for Mr. Ravi to think that his disgusting behavior was permissible or normal, he mostly focuses on what it means to seek "justice" for Tyler, his family, and yes, even Mr. Ravi and his family. I would like to touch on that topic today.

The Tyler Clementi case, Mr. Ravi's trial, and the hate crime enhancements that could have sent Mr. Ravi to prison for a long time epitomize the tension between an emotional desire for retributive punishment -- the idea that bad acts deserve punishment for no other reason than the categorical view that bad acts deserve social condemnation -- and a smarter, case-by-case appreciation for the palliative or deterrent effect of the law. I argue that hate crime enhancements are almost exclusively retributive and their across the board application risks turning the criminal law into a tool of vengeance.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Dharun Ravi Sentenced To 30 Days In Prison For Role In Tyler Clementi's Suicide

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Has justice been served?

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student found guilty of a biased crime for secretly broadcasting gay roommate Tyler Clementi's private gay hookups, a catalyst in Clementi's 2010 suicide, was sentenced today to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, counseling on cyber-bullying and LGBT communities.

In addition, Ravi must pay a $11,950 fine that will be donated to a state-sponsored group "dedicated to assisting victims of biased crimes," which as far as I know is a unique and appropriate addition.

Calling Ravi's actions "colossally insensitive and criminal," Judge Glenn Berman lambasted Ravi for an apparent lack of contrition. "I heard this jury say, 'guilty' 288 times--24 questions, 12 jurors. That's the multiplication. I haven't heard you apologize once."

Though Clementi's parents and friends have been asking for a harsh sentence for the apparent unremorseful Ravi — Clementi's mother called Ravi's actions "evil and malicious" — gay activists have advocated against the maximum 10-year and deportation sentence Ravi faced. Today many of them agreed with Judge Berman's decision.

Steven Goldstein from Garden State Equality remarked:

Those who have oppose giving Dharun Ravi jail time have asked, 'Hasn’t he suffered enough?' But we believe there’s another question:  Has Dharun Ravi done enough? Has he done enough to use his place in history to speak out against student bullying and to make a positive impact on millions of lives across our state and nation?

Thus far, no.

Though Tyler Clementi has left us, the rest of Dharun Ravi’s life will help tell his life story. Ravi’s own lawyer portrayed him as a young man who engaged merely in jerky behavior. Ravi can stay that course, or he can do some good with his life by making amends and fighting for the justice and dignity of every individual, including people who are LGBT. That much is up to Ravi.

Shane Windmeyer from Campus Pride said the case should serve as a reminder that all campus administrators and students have an obligation to work against anything even vaguely resembling discrimination or bigotry.

"Every person has a responsibility to stand up for those who experience bullying and harassment – tragedies can be averted anytime even a single voice speaks out for the voiceless,” he said.

"Bystanders – those who witness bullying or harassment and do nothing to stop it – can plead neither ignorance nor innocence. Active silence can be as damaging as active bullying and result in tragedies like Clementi’s death.”

Dan Savage described the sentencing as "far, far too lenient."

In addition to his immediate punishments, Ravi also faces three years probation. The prosecution, meanwhile, suggested today it may appeal Berman's decision. If they do not appeal, however, Ravi will report to a correctional facility on May 31st.


Dharun Ravi's Support From The Gay Community

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Reuters published an article yesterday neatly summarizing the support Dharun Ravi has received from various members of the gay community. (If you're just tuning in: Ravi is the 20-year-old who, two years ago, briefly used his webcam to spy on his new roommate, Tyler Clementi, during a gay hookup; Clementi committed suicide shortly thereafter, and Ravi's now been convicted of a hate crime. He could face substantial prison time, and will likely be deported.)

Reuters quoted Aaron Hicklin, the debonaire editor of Out:

"Ravi's conviction was a compelling signal that harassment and bullying of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people carries penalties," Aaron Hicklin [wrote] in an article arguing that Ravi be set free.

"Yet the verdict also left a bitter aftertaste, as if what was being satisfied was not justice, but revenge."

Hicklin cited a past comment by Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan that even if Clementi were alive today, he would have presented virtually the same case to the jury. Anyone who believes Kaplan, Hicklin wrote, is "kidding himself."

"Ravi was convicted because Clementi is dead," Hicklin wrote, adding that the suicide "left us reaching for simplistic answers where there are none."

... and gay rights activist Bill Dobbs:

At a rally in support of Ravi outside the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton this week, Bill Dobbs ... told the crowd that Ravi was "overcharged" in the incident.

"The hate crime law in New Jersey has got so many problems that it should be repealed," Dobbs said. "It has become a dangerous weapon that is not necessary."

... and Andrew Sullivan:

Sullivan ... said the hate crime charges, without which Ravi would likely get probation and no prison time, were "tenuous" and "repellent."

"This was a bigoted online hazing, followed by a judicial witch-hunt," Sullivan wrote.

... and lesbian writer E.J. Graff:

E.J. Graff ... said in her column in The American Prospect, "I fear that Ravi is an easy scapegoat for a complicated problem."

... and the head of Garden State Equality, Steven Goldstein:

"Justice is best served by his serving some jail time for the crime committed," ... Goldstein said. "The moderate position is not to throw the book at this young man, nor should he get off Scott free."

... and mentions that Ravi has the support of Dan Savage and New Jersey's gay ex-governor, Jim McGreevey, as well.

 


Dharun Ravi Defense Team Wants Hate Crime Convictions Dismissed

Dharun Ravi's defense attorneys filed a motion yesterday to have his hate crime convictions dismissed, saying there is not enough evidence, the Star-Ledger reports:

D_raviThe 33-page brief filed in Superior Court in New Brunswick contends evidence presented at trial showed Ravi was not guilty of invading the privacy or intimidating his roommate, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide in September 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge soon after discovering the webcam incident. Ravi was not charged in Clementi’s death.

On the bias intimidation counts — Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced May 21 — the attorneys contend the law was misapplied. On some of those counts, the jury acquitted Ravi of intending to intimidate Clementi and the other man, but convicted him on grounds Clementi felt intimidated and felt Ravi’s actions were purposeful.

"There has been no evidence of bias nor evidence of intimidation," wrote the lawyers, Steven Altman and Philip Nettl, who represented Ravi at trial. Neither was there evidence Clementi felt intimidated, they wrote. "A person cannot be intimidated under the statute unless they were the recipient of intimidating behavior ... Here there was none."

Dharun Ravi defense team seeks to have hate crime convictions dismissed [star-ledger]


Preview of Dharun Ravi's '20/20' Interview On Tyler Clementi: VIDEO

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Dharun Ravi has been making the media rounds following the guilty verdict for his role in Tyler Clementi's 2010 suicide. First there was his sit-down with Newark's Star-Ledger, and now ABC News is promoting their own interview with Ravi, set to air tomorrow on 20/20.

In addition to saying again that he doesn't dislike gay people, Ravi tells journalist Chris Cuomo that he doesn't ultimately feel responsible for what happened.

"I feel like I was an insignificant part to his life. That’s giving me comfort now," he said, "The more and more I found out, it would be kind of obnoxious of me to think that I could have this profound effect on him." He also argues he couldn't have been the sole factor in Clementi's death: "He had bigger problems in his life," which is most likely true.

Ravi does, however, admit he was in the wrong by transmitting Clementi's gay hookup. "Even though I wasn’t the one who caused him to jump off the bridge, I did do things wrong and I was stupid about a lot of stuff." But he does believe he's been "used" to make an example, telling Cuomo, "I understand why people feel the need to punish me. Bad stuff happens and they need to set an example, but it’s unfortunate this has to be the case where this happens."

Watch a preview of Ravi's interview with ABC News, AFTER THE JUMP

Continue reading "Preview of Dharun Ravi's '20/20' Interview On Tyler Clementi: VIDEO" »


Dharun Ravi On Tyler Clementi's Death: 'I Didn't Act Out Of Hate'

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Dharun Ravi has been mostly silent since his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi committed suicide after Ravi used a webcam to watch his private gay hookup. Now that he's been found guilty of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and others counts, Ravi sat down with Newark's Star-Ledger to explain himself.

Calling his actions immature, Ravi insists he "wasn’t biased." "I [just] got caught up in what I thought was funny, and my own ego."

"I didn’t act out of hate and I wasn’t uncomfortable with Tyler being gay," he told reporter Mark Di Ionna. "One of my friends had a gay roommate and I met a gay kid I liked a lot at orientation. They were cool. It was no big deal. Now there’s a verdict out there that says I hate gays. The jury has decided they know what is going on in my mind; they can tell you what you think."

Ravi also says he's sorry for all the pain he's caused, telling the paper, "I'm very sorry about Tyler… I have parents and a little brother, and I can only try to imagine how they feel. But I want the Clementis to know I had no problem with their son. I didn’t hate Tyler and I knew he was okay with me. I wanted to talk to his parents, but I was afraid. I didn’t know what to say."

Ravi will be sentenced on May 21, but vows he and his family will "fight on."


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