On Monday, May 21, a week before Memorial Day, Dharun Ravi was sentenced. Ravi is the Rutgers student convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and tampering with evidence for using a webcam to capture his roommate, Tyler Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man. Prior to Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman’s ruling, conjecture had run wild, since the charges could carry up to five years prison time, doubled for the bias aspect. Consequently, when the sentence came down as 30 days in Middlesex County prison, 300 hours community service, a fine, and three years’ probation, there were major divisions among onlookers. A number felt that the sentence was extremely harsh. Many in New Jersey’s LGBTI community, while advocating for less than the five to 10 years that was possible, felt that 30 days in prison was a slap in the face for the Clementi family.
Every story has many more than two sides. One facet was espoused by the morning talk show host on 101.5, who said he thought that Ravi had been railroaded, while others felt that Ravi’s lack of visible remorse was an indication of his arrogance. The mothers of the two young men tell almost identical stories–each tried to engage his new roommate, while the roommate sat and fiddled with his computer. Clearly, what we have is a failure to communicate. Was there bias? Language is hard to legislate–Ravi had texted his chagrin at having a gay roommate and had written a few things on the Internet, whereas had Ravi struck Clementi, the bias piece, unfortunately, would be much easier to prove.
The sentence? It was, once again, 30 days in county jail, three years’ probation, 300 hours community service, counseling, and a $10,000 fine. Is it commensurate with the level of invasion of Tyler’s privacy and that of the other man on the video? That’s a question to take up with legislators in our home districts in our states of residence, as well as across the country. How would you feel if this had happened to you in a private moment? How is this factor multiplied or mitigated by the number of people who actually—or may have potentially—viewed the video and what is the collateral damage that is done to our families and friends when our privacy is plundered in this manner? Children are soon heading off to summer camp and parents now send them with stern admonishments to be very careful of the circumstances where they take pictures … if another child is by accident captured undressing, an 11 year old could be charged with trafficking in child pornography. If you think I’m kidding, do a Google search.
Remember that while the Court of Public Opinion is trying Ravi for actions that may or may not have lead Tyler Clementi to commit suicide, counselors who work with LGBTI youth will tell you that there may be a trigger event, but it is more than just that one event that pushes anyone to the brink and beyond. The bottom line is that Ravi’s conviction was for invasion of privacy and the associated charges, not for the death of Tyler Clementi. Does the punishment fit the crime? Ravi’s mother sees the light and life gone out of her son’s eyes. Clementi’s mother has only the memory of her son.
The tragedies from one poorly conceived action send ripples through the lives of the Clementi family, of the Ravi family, and of every family in earshot of this tragedy. The larger question is, once again, does the punishment fit the crime? Personally, I would like to have seen 1000 hours of community service specifically with LGBTI youth who have contemplated or attempted suicide. In my perspective, that would provide the greatest opportunity to see the repercussions from acts of intolerance. If the goal of this trial is to help one young man change his path and to act as a cautionary tale for other young men and women, this type of service would provide a very specific step to assure greater understanding.
As many people witness an event, each will have his or her own perspective. The truth lies somewhere within. And I believe that we are all capable of being better than we are at present. All should have that opportunity to improve. Ravi’s apology on May 29, as he was on the verge of beginning to serve his prison time, is viewed as sincere by some, and gamesmanship by others. Get the facts, send healing thoughts to both families, and follow your heart in peaceful action to make the world better for us all.