On May 20th, the New York Times published
an article about certain gay activists who thought sending Dharun Ravi to prison would send the wrong message. Quoting the article:
Dan Savage, a gay columnist whose video campaign, “It Gets Better,”began in response to other suicides of gay teenagers just before Mr. Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, argued that simply locking up Mr. Ravi was a lost opportunity to talk about the other institutions and people “complicit” in Mr. Clementi’s death.
“What was he told about being gay growing up, by his faith leaders, by the media, by the culture?” Mr. Savage said. “Ravi may have been the last person who made him feel unsafe and abused and worthless, but he couldn’t have been the first.
“The rush to pin all the responsibility on Ravi and then wash our hands and walk away means we’re not going to learn the lessons of these kids.”The very next day, May 21, 2012, the sentence was announced, as reported by msnbc in their video: Rutgers Trial: Dharun Ravi Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail
The outcry in the LGBT world was immediate: the system had failed Tyler Clementi and other bullied gay kids. A thirty day sentence wasn't nearly long enough, given the severity of the crimes he was charged with, and ridiculous compared to standing convictions of similar charges.
I'm an activist when it comes to LGBT bullying by kids and young adults, I've written three novels about it. And Dharun Ravi is guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation - which means the jury was convinced that he bullied Tyler Clementi.
A jury convicted him. He's guilty - that's now a fact no matter how often he says he's not, unless another court overrules the finding of twelve honest Americans. How many times a day are the words, "But I didn't do it on purpose," heard in courthouses? Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and neither is disdain for human decency.
The Superior court judge sentenced him to:
- 30 days in jail
- $10,000 to support groups for victims
- 300 hours of community service
1. 30 days in jail may be nothing to a hardened, serial bully who searches for targets, but it's a daunting sentence for a young man in a foreign country who acted arrogantly, rashly, and childishly. He was probably more bi-curious than anything else. In this instance, whether he realized it or not, he was being a bully. 30 days in jail, the conviction on his permanent record, and a scandal that will haunt him for the rest of his life is a harsh sentence for a kid's act of stupidity, but quite appropriate for an act of bullying by a young adult that included not only private voyeurism but also the intent to cyber bully by sharing other episodes live on the internet.
2. $10,000 to support groups for victims of bias intimidation: That's a lot of money. Period. I don't care who you are, $10,000 is a lot of money. I hope his parents will make him pay them back every cent of it, but judging from the rather stereotypical Indian mother/son dynamic (Little Prince Syndrome) expressed in the courtroom, I doubt it very much. They will pay for everything and then spend more in trying to have his record expunged.
3. And the REALLY BIG part of Judge Berman's sentence: 300 hours of community service, much of it to be served with LGBT groups. This is the real wisdom of the bench's decision. Yes, Ravi is guilty of bias intimidation, but he doesn't really realize it - even now. He understands the legal term, he understands the social ramifications, and he thinks he understands the intent - but he doesn't. Not yet.
300 hours breaks down to 7.5 forty hour weeks. Whether he performs the better part of two months work all at once, or spreads it out over the course of time he's been given, he will be deeply embedded in the culture fighting bigotry and arrogant disdain for human beings who are different. His arrogance will be shaken, if not outright destroyed, by what he learns. Dharun Ravi will come away a much better man for the experience.
And isn't that the point? Our courts are about Justice with a capital J, not vengeance dripping in blood and demanding it's pound of flesh. Judge Berman has made a wise and fair decision that will force Dharun Ravi to come face to face with fear (jail time in a foreign country), make financial restitution to society ($10,000 worth), and finally be forced to learn about the very people he so casually disdained, face to face and upfront and personal. He will never look at or consider LGBT folks in the same way again.
Until LGBT people are given equal rights and protections under the law, anti-LGBT bullying will happen. It's human nature for some people to enjoy humiliating and degrading others. But cases such as this one are bricks that build a solid foundation of legal status. With each decision reaffirming LGBT rights as equal citizens, the day when true equality will be the law of the land.
Tyler Clementi was bullied to death, but not ONLY at the hands of Dharun Ravi. He'd been bullied for years, and thought college would free him of it. When he found out the culture of bigotry was pervasive and systemic, he killed himself. Ravi was only the final straw. If Tyler had just held on a little longer, or taken a different approach to his arrogant, dismissive roommate, he would have found out that after you leave the ivy walls of education it really does get better for most LGBT people. Clementi's artistry would have freed him, but he gave up and killed himself before learning that. He died at his own hand, of his own volition, and was not shoved off that bridge by anyone. He jumped.
Ravi volunteered to start serving his 30 day jail term tomorrow, May 31, 2012, before the appeals made by both sides are heard. He has been lambasted on the world stage by news agencies hungry for blood, passionate activists, and furiously grieving family, and will be followed as a curiosity for some time to come. He's been bullied by the press and others demanding he carry the total weight of human prejudice, and serve the time deserved by many. This privileged young man who came to one of America's finest universities in search of a degree that would grant him status and control over others, has come face to face with American Justice, with a capital J.
Dharun Ravi will get what's coming to him, and because of the wise Judge Berman he still has a chance to become a good, decent human being. And while Tyler Clementi will never have that chance, we must remember that he took his own life, and was not murdered. He was driven to despair by the cruelty of a culture that said he wasn't as good as his roommate, and he believed it.
We have to change the system, and to do that we must start rounding up other bullies and making them pay now, not after another tragic suicide.