After the Ravi verdict, a need for compassion, clarity


After the Dharun Ravi verdict, suddenly I’m nostalgic for the days when a noose was a noose, a hood was a hood, and a hate crime was a hate crime.

Was there ever a doubt in that grand old formula? Add one person of color. One protected minority. Voila. Justice.

We know how to fight all that.

But in these modern times (when racism, sexism and discrimination can be more latent than homosexuality), the formulas have changed.

Now you can have two immature college roommates, one a shy and inexperienced gay, the other an artless boorish straight. Add a massive dose of technology, a computer, a webcam, and what do you get?

A jury in New Jersey called it the foundation for a hate crime.

I still don’t buy it in the case of Dharun Ravi.

Sounds to me like the jury is scapegoating Ravi for the death of Tyler Clementi.

It’s easy to do. The humiliation caused by Ravi may have been such that Clementi felt compelled to take his own life. Even the jury doesn’t know for sure. It just felt Clementi “reasonably believed” he was targeted by Ravi.

But Ravi didn’t push or suggest to Clementi to jump off a bridge. Ravi isn’t a murderer. He does strike me as a typical unkind, arrogant, privileged kid from the suburbs. Still, you don’t go to jail for that.

From the facts, it doesn’t seem like Ravi’s intent on that one night was in seeing his roommate die. He didn’t tweet about his murderous intent. Ravi was just out for some “cool” tech-enabled “fun.”

Ravi’s crime ended with the invasion of privacy.

And for that he should be punished appropriately.

But somehow, the jury went beyond that.

Though it was made clear that Clementi’s death was irrelevant in this case and was not to be made an official part of the trial, comments by witnesses were allowed into the record.

For whatever despicable thing done by Ravi, there was already stuff going on inside of Tyler Clementi’s head well before the webcam incident. In the broader sense, the perp wasn’t Ravi, but all the other people who made up Clementi’s world and made him feel the way he did. The school? The boyfriend? The family? Society in general?

The jury seems to have made a leap and conveniently hung it all on Ravi.

Does that sound like justice to you?

Over the years, I’ve almost always supported hate crime enhancements. But I’ve also noticed how more often than not it has been difficult to prove. Unless, of course, it was so obvious. But when you raise the punishment, you raise the bar. I’ve seen a few cases that were obvious hate crimes to me, but not to a judge or jury.

The Ravi case is the first time that I thought there was no hate crime, and a jury voted for the enhancements.

When I first commented about this case two years ago, I applied two standards.

First, I questioned if Ravi would have done what he did with a straight roommate. From the facts, I’d say the answer is yes. He’s a guilty voyeur, not a gay bashing hate criminal. Reports say even the jury believed that about the first time Ravi peered in on Clementi on Sept. 19, 2010.

Second, I questioned if Ravi didn’t have a webcam or a computer, would he have even done any of this?

From the facts, I’d say no. This was a crime driven by technology, not by hate. Call it “plug and play morality.” It’s from the same amoral well that allows people to download music and thumb their nose at copyright law. They can do it. They think it’s cool. From that same source evolved Ravi’s crime.

But the jury was oversold on the hate because it couldn’t get the suicide of Clementi out of their heads.

So now we find ourselves in some muddy waters when it comes to hate crimes. There’s no clarity going forward like in the past when a hate crime was a hate crime was a hate crime.

My hope is that when sentencing comes in May, there will be some leniency shown Ravi. Ten years for having a webcam, a gay roommate, a cruel streak, and a lack of respect for privacy seems harsh.

Maybe before sentencing and the expected appeal, we’ll see a little remorse from Ravi, who reportedly would not accept a plea deal before the trial because he adamantly rejected any notion of anti-gay bias.

Maybe we’ll hear from an insecure kid, who used bluster and technology to make sure all the world knew he wasn’t gay, even though he had a gay roommate.

Being young and dumb doesn’t totally excuse Ravi, but the insecurity of youth on the part of Ravi and Clementi has more to do with this case than anyone has acknowledged.

Destroying Ravi’s life will neither even the score for Clementi’s suicide, nor end the homophobia we all want to see end.

Somehow, serious prison time and especially deportation seem counter-productive. Surely, there’s a kinder, gentler conclusion and a better example to set for society, but only if the justice meted out comes with a little mercy and compassion.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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