16 March 2012
As you may have heard by now, Dharun Ravi has been found guilty of hate crimes. He will be sentenced on 21 May; he faces ten years in prison and possible deportation to his native India.
As an aside, I think the latter may turn out, in some ways, to be the more severe punishment. Although he was born in India, he has spent most of his life in New Jersey. His parents brought him to the US when he was a small child, so if he is deported, he will be cut off from his friends and family (unless, of course, they go to India) and, really, life as he knows it.
In any event, although I am satisfied with the fact that he will be punished for his actions, I have mixed feelings about the verdict and the specific punishment he could receive.
On one hand, I know firsthand how serious it is when someone invades your privacy and uses whatever he finds to intimidate, harass or simply embarrass you. Even if he is "revealing" something people already know about you, he can still use it for the purposes I have mentioned. Also, it makes you feel vulnerable and helpless when someone uses very personal information about you for the purpose of demeaning you in some way. That, essentially, is what Ravi did when he showed his friends the images of Tyler Clementi and his boyfriend.
Also, I know--I've learned the hard way!--that someone who's upset with you, or simply dislikes you, can take the most benign information he finds about you and spin it into something negative or even an outright falsehood. Such things can put you in physical danger as well as the risk of losing friends, jobs and places to live. (I've seen all of those things happen to people.)
It seems to me that Ravi was upset because Clementi, his roommate, asked to have the room to himself. Like most freshman-year college roommates, they had never before met each other before going to Rutgers. That, I believe, would intensify whatever resentment Ravi may have had--whether or not verbalized it--over being kicked out of his room. Perhaps videotaping it and amusing his friends with the images was some sort of retaliation for what he perceived to be an unfair demand from Clementi.
Even if we accept such an explanation, we are still left with this question: Would Ravi have videotaped Clementi had he brought a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend to the room? I can't help but to answer, "no." I base that answer, not on any speculation about whether or not Ravi is homophobic: Perhaps he was, but I doubt that he is any more so than most young men of his age. (I include myself at that stage of my life.) The reason I think that he wouldn't have run the webcam had Clementi been canoodling with a co-ed is that it simply wouldn't have shocked or titillated his friends--or him. Clementi would have been doing what the majority of college students--including, I assume, Ravi and his friends--have, or would have done, at one time or another. On the other hand, even if they were raised in "tolerant" environments and their best friends "came out" to them when they were twelve years old, it's unlikely that they would have seen two men (or two women) in acts of physical intimacy.
Think of it this way: Has Jerry Springer ever had a heterosexual married couple from Greenwich, Connecticut and their 2.5 kids on his show?
In any event, if Ravi showing his friends what that webcam revealed really drove Clementi to his suicide, Ravi was, indeed, responsible for Clementi's death. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I have to wonder what crime--among those defined by law--describes what Ravi did. I would guess that it's probably not murder. So, then, is it manslaughter? Involuntary manslaughter? If it is, my admittedly sketchy knowledge of criminal law tells me that ten years in prison and/or deportation is probably an appropriate sentence.
The real tragedy is, of course, that Clementi is dead and Ravi's life is effectively over at the age of 20. Also, the lives of Clementi's family members, and others who were in his life, will never be what they were. There is no way to redress those things--not under the law, anyway. For that reason, there is simply no way that justice can be done--not for his family, and not for Ravi. But most important, not for Tyler Clementi. I can only hope that he has gone to a place where there is love and acceptance, not to mention more maturity about sexual matters and other people's lives.