A New Jersey college student was sentenced to 30 days in jail this week after being convicted of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, who committed suicide upon realizing that he’d been held up to ridicule. Dharun Ravi, a 20-year-old Indian national, had faced up to 10 years in jail and deportation for tweeting friends that he had watched Tyler Clementi during a sexual tryst with a man in their Rutgers University dorm room. Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge just days later. Ravi was charged and later convicted on 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and obstructing justice. He was not charged with causing Clementi’s death. In handing down the sentence, Judge Glenn Berman said Ravi had acted with “colossal insensitivity,” but not out of hatred. Both the prosecution and the defense said they would appeal.
Ravi got off too lightly, said Lane Filler in Newsday. Berman’s “slap on the wrist” won’t “deter other thoughtless young people from the same callous behavior.” A harsher sentence might have convinced bullied gay youths that their tormentors would be punished, and perhaps saved some of them from following Clementi’s tragic “final path.”
The facts of the case didn’t warrant a long prison sentence, said Jay Michaelson in TheDailyBeast.com. Ravi’s actions fell far short of the brutal physical attacks normally covered by hate-crime laws, and the larger issues of bigotry and homophobia aren’t going to be solved by “singling out scapegoats.” Besides, “he is going to jail.”
This outcome satisfies no one, said Ian Parker in NewYorker.com. Ravi, a “largely unsympathetic character,” has shown no remorse, failing to utter a word of apology to Clementi’s family. Yet as the judge pointed out, no one could have anticipated that Clementi would react to Ravi’s “mean-spirited” actions by committing suicide. This case is a reminder that “criminal law is not always the perfect means for reaching political or social goals.”