This is a bit late in coming, but as many of you know, Dharun Ravi, whom we blogged about in our comparison with American Pie, was convicted on all 15 counts, which includes “bias intimidation.” In other words, they found Dharun Ravi guilty of a hate crime. They’re not only talking about 5 to 10 years in prison, they’re talking about deporting him to his native India–Ravi is a green card holder.
In my original post, I said that we needed to show some restraint. In this case, I think the verdict of bias intimidation is wrong, and I don’t believe people are showing restraint in the aftermath. I think they’re using Dharun Ravi as a scapegoat. Tragic as Clementi’s death is, I just don’t see a pattern of hatred towards gays, an intent to bully or intimidate Clementi, or even evidence that Clementi was targeted because he was gay. Check out this excellent New Yorker article that describes the complexities in this case: The Story of a Suicide. If you look at the way they talk/tweet/IM, in most cases it seems like childish kidding. Anyone with younger Facebook friends will recognize the style–it’s typical.
Now I’m not saying that Dharun Ravi is innocent. He spied on his roommate and is guilty of invading Clementi’s privacy. He tampered with evidence and tried to guide a witness. But given the evidence (and I wasn’t at the trial), it seems hard to argue that he’s guilty of a hate crime. Here’s the legal definition of bias intimidation according to New Jersey law:
a. Bias Intimidation. A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense specified in chapters 11 through 18 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; N.J.S.2C:33-4; N.J.S.2C:39-3; N.J.S.2C:39-4 or N.J.S.2C:39-5,
(1) with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity; or
(2) knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity; or
(3) under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
According to one article, the “bias intimidation” issue hinged on the thought that Clementi “reasonably believed” that hit was done with a purpose of intimidating him or that the victim believed he was selected to be the target because he was (in this case) gay. I don’t see that. I think Clementi was targeted because he was Ravi’s roommate, and because Ravi is immature. Sepia Mutiny has a good post about this: Free Dharun Ravi: Fairness vs. Justice. The blogger writes:
“Ravi is an immature, upper middle class kid and a “casual homophobe” (more on that term later) but he is not a perpetrator of a hate crime. To consider him more than marginally complicit in the death of Tyler Clementi hurts two groups: victims of true hate crimes and the mental health community.”
I have to agree. They ought to come down hard on Ravi because of the webcam trick, but he’s not guilty of a hate crime. As much as I feel Ravi deserves punishment, I think the court decision went a bit far in this case.