Wow. It’s hard to fathom that Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi’s tragic death means so little when you hear this verdict. Dharun Ravi, who used a remote webcam in the dorm room he shared with Clementi to capture Tyler’s sexual encounter with another man, has been sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail. You’ll recall that just days after Clementi learned of the video, the 18-year-old killed himself, jumping off the George Washington Bridge. NJ Star Ledger:
Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman, before imposing sentence, sternly addressed Ravi after the young man from Plainsboro unexpectedly chose not to address the court.
“I heard this jury say guilty 288 times, and I haven’t heard you apologize once,” said Berman.
Still, he found that Ravi acted not out of hate, but of “colossal insensitivity.”
“This individual was not convicted of a hate crime. He was convicted of a bias crime and there’s a difference. I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi. He had no reason to. But I do believe that he acted out of colossal insensitivity,” said the judge during the televised hearing.
The judge imposed a sentence of 30 days, along with three years probation. Ravi was also given 300 hours of community service and told to contribute $10,000 to a state licensed community based organization dedicated to assisting victims of bias crimes.
The prosecutor also charged that Ravi deleted a Twitter post alerting others to a September 21 encounter between the two gay men, replacing it “with a false post on Twitter intended to mislead the investigation.” Evidence was presented showing that the defendant provided false information to investigators and attempted to persuade witnesses not to testify against him.
Molly Wei, also a former Rutgers student who admitted to having joined Ravi in viewing Clementi and M.B. remotely via the webcam stream, struck a plea deal last year in which she agreed to testify against Ravi, perform community service, and complete a cyber-bullying education program.
Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein shares his reaction to what feels to many like a wrist-slap:
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.
Remember that Ravi had messaged his motivation in violating Tyler’s privacy: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Remember that before Tyler took his life, Ravi messaged a friend: ”Keep the gays away.” And remember that because Ravi had tampered with evidence, his post-facto messages to Tyler that he, Ravi, had no problem with gay people understandably lost their credibility to the jury.
Dharun Ravi wasn’t convicted of a bias crime unfairly. Dharun Ravi was convicted of a bias crime because his own words broadcast anti-gay animus to Tyler Clementi and the world.
Since the verdict, Dharun Ravi’s extraordinary lawyers and their media operation have deemphasized these facts, stunningly able to recast Ravi in the role of victim, scapegoat and even folk hero. But we remember the trial itself – a long and painstaking trial where Ravi had the best team possible, unlike many other defendants charged with serious crimes.
None of us not directly affected by this tragedy has reason to be happy. Tyler Clementi is no longer with us. Another man – M.B. – has seen this tragedy wreak havoc on his own life. The life of a third man, Dharun Ravi, will never be the same again. And Tyler’s family will forever have to live with the loss of their son, brother, nephew and cousin. May the family receive strength from their loving memories.
Those who have oppose giving Dharun Ravi jail time have asked, hasn’t he suffered enough? But we believe there’s another question: Has Dharun Ravi done enough? Has he done enough to use his place in history to speak out against student bullying and to make a positive impact on millions of lives across our state and nation?
Thus far, no.
Though Tyler Clementi has left us, the rest of Dharun Ravi’s life will help tell his life story. Ravi’s own lawyer portrayed him as a young man who engaged merely in jerky behavior. Ravi can stay that course, or he can do some good with his life by making amends and fighting for the justice and dignity of every individual, including people who are LGBT. That much is up to Ravi.
As for all of us, we must continue our focus on building a better world, one free of bullying of every student, so that a tragedy like this never happens again. That’s what New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the country’s strongest anti-bullying law, is ultimately about.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all whose lives have been changed by this tragedy.
Campus Pride notes this case provides an opportunity for reflection and proves the need for proactive approach to campus and community safety and inclusion.
All colleges, their faculty, staff and students, and all communities everywhere, can heed the lessons Rutgers officials were forced to learn as tragic events unfolded on their campus. Several individuals, including campus housing staff and Ravi’s and Clementi’s hallmates, noted during the trial that they knew of the harassment faced by Clementi, but no one ever firmly stood up against it. Bystanders to bullying and harassment cannot be tolerated; we must all be up-standers as individuals and join with others to create communities of respect and civility.
“Every person has a responsibility to stand up for those who experience bullying and harassment – tragedies can be averted anytime even a single voice speaks out for the voiceless,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “Bystanders – those who witness bullying or harassment and do nothing to stop it – can plead neither ignorance nor innocence. Active silence can be as damaging as active bullying and result in tragedies like Clementi’s death.”
Simple and commonsense steps could have prevented Clementi’s suicide. Since his death, Rutgers University has made several steps in bridging the gap between their LGBT students’ needs and the campus’ offered services, but too many colleges refuse to see the consequences of inaction and remain unsafe for LGBT students.
Of more than 4,000 colleges and universities across the U.S., less than 10 percent have opted to voluntarily assess their campus’ policies and practices using the Campus Pride LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index (www.campusprideindex.org). Less than seven percent of schools offer institutional support to LGBT students, such as an LGBT student center or programs director. Only 13 percent offer non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and just six percent protect students on the basis of gender identity. Only one school, Illinois’ Elmhurst College, asks students demographic questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on its admissions application.
Campus Pride calls on all colleges and universities to take steps now to fully include LGBT students on their campuses and to create safer, more welcoming environments where LGBT students can grow in their academic careers. Programs and policy implementation – such as anti-discrimination policies, safe and inclusive student conduct codes, gender-neutral housing, LGBT living-learning communities, hate-crime and bias-motivated incident response and LGBT-inclusive healthcare – are not optional.