Clementi case a wake-up call

Posted on 24 May 2012 at 5:14pm

30-day sentence for gay Rutgers student’s roommate is an outrage, but retribution won’t end bullying, so it’s time we found a better solution

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Dharun Ravi, left, and Tyler Clementi

 

In New Jersey, the crime of joy riding carries a mandatory 60-day sentence, and it can even apply to the passenger in the vehicle. Why is this important? Because if Dharun Ravi had been a passenger in a stolen car, he would receive more jail time than he was sentenced to after being found guilty of 15 counts including bias, invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension and evidence tampering.

Now if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know who Dharun Ravi is, perhaps you’ll remember Tyler Clementi. He was the Rutgers student who committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. This was after Ravi broadcast a feed from a hidden web cam of Clementi with a male partner in his dorm room. Not only did he invade Clementi’s privacy, he held a viewing party for his friends and invited people to attend.

Ravi is a cyber-bully, and his actions directly led to Clementi taking his life in despair. Not a fun story, and the charges could have carried a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. After he was found guilty of the 15 counts, a judge on Monday, May 20, sentenced Ravi to 30 days in jail and community service.

To say I was dumfounded is an understatement. I almost spit out a mouthful of coffee all over my computer! I recall the verdict in the Harvey Milk/George Moscone murder trial where Dan White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder. At least Dan White could claim he had been hyped up on Twinkies.

Ravi showed no remorse, nor did he apologize during the trial as the judge noted, “I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times, and I haven’t heard you apologize once.” Yet, for some reason the judge decided that 30 days and community service, as well as three years probation for the invasion of privacy was sufficient deterrent to anyone else. I have to disagree.

After I calmed down, and sipped another cup of coffee, I tried to understand the verdict and more importantly how our criminal justice system does and doesn’t work in this country.

First, I am not sure if jail time is a deterrent to anything. If jail sentences were effective deterrents, we would have less crime in Texas than most other states since we have some of the strictest penalties around, not to mention capital punishment.

I don’t think people who commit crimes, especially ones like Ravi’s, sit down and weigh the consequences before acting. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this column and Tyler Clementi would most likely still be alive.

Punishment is about retribution, not deterrence. Do I feel Ravi should be punished for his actions? You bet, but I don’t believe his sentence will deter anyone except perhaps him from doing something as callous and downright stupid again.

I think the best way to deter this kind of thing is by having the criminal, in this case the cyber-bully, make direct amends to the family. By amends I mean actively doing something that can help the Clementi family heal. Ravi did what he did from a standpoint of anonymity and stealth.

That is the modus operandi of most cyber-bullies. They hide behind screen names or in Ravi’s case a hidden camera and do their dirty work. They don’t get their hands dirty, distancing themselves from any responsibility. Maybe having to spend time with the family of his victim and actually relate to them face to face might get the point across.

I know there are no simple solutions to this, and I also know emotions are running high right now. Mine are. My hope is that the outcome of this case will spur some honest discussions about how to deal with this kind of crime and more importantly how to prevent it.  It is obvious we don’t have the tools to do that at our disposal and it seems little effort has been made to actively stem this kind of crime.

The Trevor Project is a good start, but it is focused on the victims of bullying, not the bullies themselves.

That is where any kind of lasting progress will be made. Until we begin teaching not just in our schools but in our churches and public forums that every person deserves respect and kindness, we won’t make much progress.

With hate-filled politicians, pundits and preachers ranting against the “evils” of LGBT people, it seems like an insurmountable problem.

It is a big problem for sure, but I don’t believe it is insurmountable. The Golden Rule seems a bit tarnished lately but it has proven to be effective when put into practice. Although most cynics will scoff that the whole “treat your neighbor as you would be treated” thing might not work, I can assure them that business as usual isn’t working either.

I recall a kid in high school who “borrowed” a neighbor’s car for a joy ride. He ended up wrecking it and luckily walked away unharmed.

His parents, not the police, settled the issue by making him do work for the man whose car he stole without pay, as well as repaying for the damage done to the car. Not surprisingly, the perpetrator and the neighbor whose car he stole ended up reconciled.

Making “examples” of people like Dharun Ravi won’t achieve the desired results, but working to make Ravi a more exemplary citizen might.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.

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