After the Ravi verdict, a need for compassion, clarity

March 18, 2012 6:37 PM

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.

Updates at  Follow Emil on Twitter, @emilamok.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. You are right. He should be punished only for invasion of privacy.
Posted by: Lreader | Mar 20, 201212:31 PM

2. Finally a well balanced article that sees both sides of the story! Thanks Emil!!
Posted by: Lily | Mar 20, 201212:48 PM

3. Yes to everything you say. Beyond that, two other things. In the past, this kind of violation would have been dealt with by authorities in the university system, often remaining in the hands of dormitory administrators to take punitive measures. College teens are prone to some pretty severe shenanigans, and school officials deal with these kinds of transgressions all the time. The second issue I see is where TC felt it acceptable to take over the shared dorm room to use as a makeout pad during evening hours, entertaining a much older guest from off-campus. Dorms are for student living, studying and socializing. Quarters are close and communal, and students lack the ready privacy of off-campus living. Just as Ravi violated TC's right to privacy, TC showed a certain disregard toward Ravi by closing off the room to all but himself and an off-campus stranger. This decision was shortsighted, and the results proved tragic.
Posted by: Ron Light | Mar 20, 2012 1:30 PM

4. There is no way Dharun should have been convicted of Bias Intimidation..... Can we do something about it?..yes we our part....There are a couple of petitions that are being bring it to the attention of our President of the country and the Governor of the state of NJ. Please sign these and also forward these to your friends/relatives for further signatures. The links for the petitions are: White House petition for President Obama: Petition for Governor Christie
Posted by: AKS505 | Mar 20, 2012 2:06 PM

5. as ronnie used to say.........'there you go again", emil.........talking both sense and compassion.........
Posted by: Michael Patrick | Mar 20, 2012 2:23 PM

6. Thanks Emil. You are correct. Ravi is being made a scapegoat. There was invasion of privacy and that is where it should have stopped. There was no evidence of "hate"- but the prosecutor wanted to "find" something and one conversation - "keep away the gays" was considered enough to convict him for a hate crime. Is there possibly some jury bias here? I think he needs a defense that should be taken step by step to show that there was never any hate- the motive on Ravi's part may be to express his anger at being asked to leave his own dorm room for privacy -highly inappropriate (as another commentator has shared).
Posted by: Sheila Vaidya | Mar 20, 2012 4:42 PM

7. Some observations 1. 'BIAS INTIMIDATION' , 'HATE' against GAYs is done by Church , Pope all the time openly... will they also be legally prosecuted, jailed and deported to europe ???? 2. 'INVASION of PRIVACY' is done by law agencies against Muslims all the time for over years...what if Muslims react and SUE against those who are 'SPYIng' on them.
Posted by: FACT_TALK | Mar 20, 2012 6:54 PM

8. If you disagree with the verdict please show your support by signing the petition at
Posted by: A Sam | Mar 21, 2012 8:54 AM

9. This article, though compassionate at times, nebulously circumvents the most basic of facts in the case, an they are: 1) Dharun Ravi did not ever intend on recording the antics of his roommate 2) He did not have parties where he showed the content of the recording 3) He apologised for his actions. I absolutely agree that there should not have been this bandwagon, and I also see this same kind of pre-trial (even pre arrest) hype in MANY other cases. Adam Carolla shares your perspective, though his sharing of it is not so eloquent:
Posted by: Karole Johnson | Mar 31, 201211:56 AM

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