Back in 2010, America was saddened by the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after finding out that his roommate had spied on him. Dharun Ravi had placed a webcam in their college dorm room to film Clementi kissing another man.
Since the incident, media attention has been focused on the victimization of LGBTQ youth, but only recently has Ravi been charged with numerous counts. Between February and March, Ravi has been found guilty of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and a witness and hindering apprehension. What Ravi has not been charged with is Clementi’s death.
Although Judge Glenn Berman, who sentenced Ravi to thirty days in county jail, and last week said, “I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi. I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity,” various other forces have complicated this case. While prosecutors argue that the sentence is too lenient, Ravi’s lawyers argue that he was wrongly charged and they should be allowed to see more evidence, such as Clementi’s suicide note.
The sentence could even be shortened from thirty days to twenty if Ravi is on good behavior, according to Edmond Cicchi, warden of the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center. His sentence began on May 31st, and will be followed by three years of probation.
Beyond the level of fairness of the sentence, arguments exist about the nature of the charges and whether Ravi truly committed a hate crime. Some say that “bias intimidation,” which despite its description as a hate crime, is actually a thought crime, is a fact that should trouble gays as much as anybody else. According to this method of thinking, our justice system punishes:
“thoughts rather than deeds, it takes a giant step down a slippery slope away from the very ‘equal protection of the laws’ that civil libertarians of all parties, races and creeds have fought for in this nation for decades, arguably since our founding.”
Judge Berman has also been inundated with letters during his tough decision, including everyone from students and professors to members of LGBTQ organizations and the armed forces. Some of the most notable were from a member of the Navy, who quoted “I am gay and I know what bullies are like. Dharun Ravi did not bully Tyler. … and he does DESERVE to live in MY country that I fight for. This jury decision was clearly influenced by media, it needs to be overturned,” and a South Asian LGBTQ group who quoted “We do not believe that justice for a gay man can be bought with injustice against an immigrant.”