Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student who came to national notoriety for his harassment of gay roommate Tyler Clementi, received Monday a sentence of 30 days in jail, three years’ probation, 300 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine for illegally spying on and filming Clementi having an intimate moment with another man.
And though prosecutors never accused Ravi of being responsible, the tragic suicide of the 18-year-old Clementi off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010 left many clamoring for justice: They wanted Ravi, now 20, to pay.
Thirty days in jail doesn’t seem that bad when you compare it to the 10 years in prison that prosecutors wanted, based on Ravi’s conviction last March of invasion of privacy, witness tampering, tampering of evidence and the hate crime of bias intimidation. But looking at what Ravi actually did, and not the aftermath of his offenses, his relatively short sentence appears to be on the mark. If anything 30 days in jail is too long.
Ravi acted in an irresponsible, mean-spirited manner in using a webcam to spy on his roommate and revealing Clementi’s deeply private actions. And even now, he acts unrepentant: “I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times. 24 questions, 12 jurors — that’s the multiplication. And I haven’t heard you apologize once,” Judge Glenn Berman told Ravi on Monday. Berman went on to say that Ravi acted out of “colossal insensitivity,” which many could agree with.
But that’s exactly the problem: Ravi acted insensitively, but bullying of this kind — observing others with an intent to belittle, setting up heartless pranks and the like — plays a common role in the lives of many American teenagers, whether they’re perpetrators or victims. The kind of intolerance that Ravi showed, be it referring to Clementi as a “f-g” or derisively tweeting about him “kissing a dude,” isn’t new: Anyone who has attended high school knows that this sort of behavior exists in droves.
It’s aggravatingly difficult to draw the line between bullying and genuine, punishable hate crime. What of the countless bullies who do more than just spy, but shove, beat and threaten people in the shadows of the schoolyard, only to get a weak-handed reprimand by the principal? Can we charge them all with the hate crime of “bias intimidation”? Should they all be going to jail?
Clementi’s sexual orientation, along with his suicide, makes it incredibly easy to play connect-the-dots when it comes to the Rutgers case. It’s simple to say that Clementi would have been fine — and wouldn’t have killed himself — if Ravi hadn’t done anything. It’s simple to pick and choose Ravi’s insults and say that homophobia clearly played a prevailing role. It’s simple to make this case out to be a lesson about hatred toward the gay community, and how it needs to be stopped.
But trying to find meaning in Clementi’s death ignores the greater point: Not enough evidence exists to justify this as a hate crime in the traditional vicious sense. The law must punish based on actions alone, not context or the aftermath of a crime.
As far as we can really tell, Ravi didn’t target Clementi because he was gay — Ravi did it because, well, he just didn’t really like Clementi, and made fun of everything from Clementi’s nerdiness to his economic status. One can only wonder what sort of effect the issue of gay discrimination, along with the high-profile suicide, had on the jury in its deliberation.
What’s clear is this: Ravi’s conviction will follow him for the rest of his life. Considering that some readers probably have acted even more maliciously than Ravi ever did and gotten away with it, 30 days in jail seems to be more than enough.
Eddie Kim is a senior majoring in print journalism and editorial director for the Summer Trojan.