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Topics In the News
Dharun Ravi Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail, 3 Years Probation
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/20/12
Last updated on: 05/22/12
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Tyler Clementi, the victim of Dharun Ravi's crimes.

On May 21, 2012 Dharun Ravi was given a slap on the wrist for crimes arising from videotaping his Rutgers University dormmate Tyler Clementi's sexual liaison with a man shortly before Clementi took his life. Following a three-week-long trial that ended in March, Ravi was found guilty of 24 of the 35 separate charges on 15 counts with which he was charged. He could have been sentenced to as much as ten years in prison. Shockingly, some gay leaders had urged that he be spared jail time entirely.

Judge Glenn Berman did not sentence Ravi to prison, but he did sentence him to 30 days in jail, plus a 3-year probation, 300 hours of community service, and assessments totalling $21,000. This sentences is so excessively lenient that it is a miscarriage of justice.

Surprisingly, and to me disappointingly, Judge Berman also said that he would recommend that Ravi not be deported. Why is not clear. Ravi and his family have deliberately opted against applying for American citizenship. Why should it be regarded as some excessive penalty for him to be deported to the country of his citizenship?

As he handed down the excessively lenient sentence, Judge Berman observed, "I heard this jury say guilty 288 times: 24 questions, 12 jurors, that's the multiplication. And I haven't heard you apologize once."

The prosecution, which had asked for a brief prison sentence, indicated that they may appeal the light sentence.

The sentence hearing featured moving statements by Clementi's mother, father, and brother.

Clementi's father said his son "was very vulnerable and he was shaken by the cold criminal actions of his roommate." He said, "We are seeking justice and accountability, not revenge."

James Clementi, Tyler's brother, said he has found himself wondering whether Ravi is "even capable of empathizing with another person." He said it was obvious that Ravi decided Tyler was "someone who deserved to be laughed at, picked on and violated."

Calling Ravi's actions "malicious and evil," Clementi's mother Jane asked for justice. "The court needs to show . . . this was not right and it was not acceptable behavior and it will not be tolerated."

Ravi's parents made emotional statements. His lawyer said that Ravi is "being demonized by the gay community. They're associating and connecting whatever he did with the death of Tyler."

The case garnered international attention because of Clementi's suicide. The shy 18-year-old freshman and gifted musician died on September 22, 2010 as the result of jumping from the George Washington Bridge, apparently distraught over the humiliation he felt as the result of Ravi's viewing--and inviting others to view--via webcam his sexual encounter with an older man.

The death spotlighted the problems of anti-gay bullying and teen suicide and prompted a national conversation about them.

The jury of seven women and five men were convinced by First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Julia McClure's assertion that Ravi invaded the privacy of Clementi and his male companion, with the intent to intimidate Clementi because he was gay.

In doing so, they rejected attorney Steven Altman's argument that Ravi was acting like a typical 18-year-old "kid" and did not know how to deal with seeing two men kissing. Altman presented Ravi as a young man just out of high school whose actions may have been stupid but not criminal.

Although witnesses, including Rutgers students testifying for the state, said that Ravi never expressed any anti-gay sentiments, other evidence surfaced that Ravi was upset at having a gay roommate and frequently used anti-gay slurs.

In a blog I posted on March 16, 2012 after Ravi's conviction, I detailed the events that led to Ravi's conviction and observed that "No one should take pleasure in the fact that Ravi's life will be so negatively affected by his callous and thoughtless actions. On the other hand, his refusal to acknowledge how his actions contributed to the suicide of an equally promising young man makes it very difficult to feel sympathy for him."

Hence, I was appalled to learn that some gay advocates defended him. According to a story by Reuters reporter Jonathan Allen reprinted in the Chicago Tribune, some gay activists urged that Ravi be given probation instead of prison. Some even attacked the hate crime law under which Ravi was convicted. Among the nationally known activists cited in the article are Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, and former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy.

[After the sentence was handed down, Savage, who had earlier urged leniency, tweeted that it was "far too lenient."]

These efforts on behalf of a bully are disturbing. Ravi was not convicted of killing Clementi, but there is no question that he bullied Clementi and his activities contributed to his suicide.

Ravi was convicted, on overwhelming evidence, for lying to authorities and suborning lies by others; for attempting to destroy evidence; for invading Clementi's privacy; and for intimidating him because of his sexual orientation.

Prior to the trial, Ravi was offered a very generous plea deal, one that would have spared him prison. Instead of accepting this plea, Ravi, apparently feeling no remorse but a great deal of arrogance, chose to go to trial. He undoubtedly thought that at trial he could minimize the significance of his spying on and tormenting his roommate. He may even have thought that what he did was not serious, that it was, as his lawyer argued, just a prank.

The jury, however, did not buy this version of his actions. He was convicted by a conscientious jury that sat through weeks of testimony and deliberated for 12 hours. Their verdict should be respected.

To minimize Ravi's crime is to minimize the problem of bullying in this country. To disparage hate crime legislation is to betray the thousands of people who have worked so hard to help protect glbtq people from assault and even murder simply because of who they are.

The point is not to make Ravi a scapegoat for bullying or to impose a draconian penalty for his actions. It is to secure justice for Tyler Clementi and his family. That, it seem to me, requires jail time.

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

After the sentence was announced, Goldstein said, "Moments ago, Judge Berman decided to sentence Dharun Ravi to 30 days in jail. We have been public in taking a position of balance: We opposed throwing the book at Dharun Ravi. We have spoken out against giving him the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and against deporting him. That would have been vengeance beyond punishment and beyond sending a message to the rest of society.

But we have similarly rejected the other extreme that Ravi should have gotten no jail time at all, and today's sentencing is closer to that extreme than the other. This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias.

The parents of Tyler Clementi have been clear that, while they are not in favor of a "harsh" punishment for Ravi, they believe he should be held accountable for what he has done.

According to an Associated Press story published in the New York Times, on May 17th the Clementis attended a preview production of The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman's play about the response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which gave an impetus to hate crimes legislation.

After the performance, the Clementis joined a panel discussion in which they spoke about the power of the play they had just seen. Joe Clementi, Tyler's father, said that people should take friends who are not accepting of those with differences to see productions of it.

"There are more of us people that think the way we think than there are people who are the haters," he said.

He also said that that his son's plight had echoes of the Matthew Shepard case. "The circumstances were different," he said. "The effect was the same."

The video below reports on Joe Clementi's comments about The Laramie Project.

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