Why I Don’t Share Criticisms of the Ravi Verdict
Everyone knows about the case of the Rutgers University freshman, who secretly set up a webcam in his dorm room and filmed an assignation his gay roommate had with another man. The gay freshman teen, Tyler Clementi, was apparently so distraught at Dharun Ravi’s deception, so terrified at having the visuals of him and another man go public, and anticipating public humiliation, that he threw himself off a bridge.
The ensuing trial was one of the most covered in recent history. By one estimate, over 100 news media were represented in the New Jersey courtroom when Ravi was convicted. The case seemed to distill some of the most hot-button issues in the air: anti-gay bullying among young adults; the ability to humiliate someone exponentially thanks to the Web and social media; the lack of privacy in an age when any moderately tech-savvy person can become a cyber spy.
Looking at the tens of thousands of comments left at news sites, I got the feeling that the general consensus was that Ravi was an arrogant jerk who, at best, didn’t care about Clementi’s feelings. At worst, he was a bully of the worst order, whose actions led directly to suicide. The fact that Ravi came from an affluent family and Clementi from people of more moderate circumstances added another layer of anger.
But there were those who, while not defending Ravi, believed that he was being made a scapegoat. For them, the intense media attention at least partly forced the judge and jury’s hands. Some question whether Ravi should have been convicted of a hate crime. And they raise other issues about fairly meting out justice.
Interestingly, many of these dissenting voices are coming from gay men. All of them oppose bullying, certainly; but they also oppose what they see as an unbalanced legal system.
At the urging of a reader, EDGE recently ran an article explaining a contrary position to what some see as a lynch mob mentality.
Since I happen to agree strongly with the jury’s verdict and disagree strongly with these sentiments, I will take the arguments point by point:
• Former New York Times Managing Editor Bill Keller suggested that "the court is looking to make an example of Ravi. To which I say: "Yes, and ...?" Although this case was virtually without precedent, there have been several cases of peers torturing someone using the Web and social media.
Taunts once heard only among those in a school or even a town, now can be witnessed by literally billions of people. Think only of the case of the mother who disguised herself on the Web as a teen-age girl so she could torment, to the point of suicide, an unpopular classmate of her daughter’s.
If the crimes to which a jury of his peers convicted Ravi carry a sentence, then that sentence is on the books. If a judge chooses to use the wider legal penalty, it’s second-guessing to suggest he’s "making a point." But even if he were, the law exists in part exactly as that reason. Every trial is, in a sense, a morality play for the masses.
One of the purposes of conviction is to set an example to others. Ravi, in fact, should be an example.
• Gay activist William Dobbs has been especially out in front of this issue. He accused Rutgers University of "scapegoating" Ravi.
I have a simple answer to this: Rutgers didn’t charge him with a crime, convict him or incarcerate him. All Rutgers did was have Ravi leave the school after the suicide. Trust me: If Rutgers had let Ravi stay during the pre-trial and trial period, the resultant outcry against the school would have been deafening. Not only that, but what Ravi did was so clearly a gross violation of school policy, to have let him remain would have left a horrendous message to other students about what kind of behavior would be tolerated.
• Dobbs also warns about the dangers of "vengeance."
I admit to finding this puzzling. What is the law, if not institutionalized vengeance? We can talk all we want about incarcerating people for rehabilitation, to prevent harm to themselves and others, and so on.