Some folks in the gay community have recently argued against a harsh sentence for the convicted Dharun Ravi, the man guilty of surreptitiously broadcasting over the internet his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, while he was having a date — an act which led to Mr. Clementi’s suicide. Some feared a harsh sentence might cause a backlash. Others felt that it would unjustly damn Mr. Ravi as a scapegoat for all the homophobic ills that bedevil our society. Quoted in the NY Times article, Dan Savage said:
“What was he told about being gay growing up, by his faith leaders, by the media, by the culture? 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.”
Let’s say your house gets broken into. The first time, someone breaks a window and steals some change. The second time, someone else breaks in through the sliding glass door and takes some clothes. This third time, someone else again breaks yet another window and takes the TV. This third thief is caught by the police. The third thief will be prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced on the bases of the third crime and the third crime alone, not the other two. Similarly, Mr. Ravi can and should be sentenced based on his actions and his actions alone, not the faith leader’s, not the media’s, and not the culture’s. It is entirely possibly, and one can quite easily make the argument, that the permissiveness of homophobia by some faith leaders, certain media, and segments of the culture emboldened Mr. Ravi to act as he did. In that sense, then, his punishment sends a message to one and all that such acts cannot and will not be tolerated in our society. Cruelty, in this case, has consequences.
Well, they would if the sentence hadn’t been so weak-willed, but it was. Judge Glenn Berman sentenced Mr. Ravi to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, 3 years probation, and a $11,000 fine. Even Mr. Savage called it “a slap on the wrist.” I say it was worse than that.
Judge Berman said during the sentencing that Mr. Ravi did not commit a hate crime.
“Ravi was not convicted of hate crime. He has been convicted of a bias crime and there is a difference. I say this because I do not believe that Ravi hated Clement (sic) because he has no reason to do that. But I do believe that he (Ravi) acted out of colossal insensitivity” – Judge Berman (from Rediff)
Later, the judge said that Mr. Ravi must undergo counseling about cyber-bullying and “alternative lifestyles.” Oh, how a cringed when I heard the judge say those two words. First, he obviously and clumsily avoided the g-word something fierce during his whole speech, then he had to go there.
This is where the judge, and his sentence, failed. By not explicitly connecting Mr. Ravi’s behavior with anti-gay animus, he failed to highlight in clear, unambiguous language the dangers of such attitudes. He neutered the cause of Mr. Ravi’s actions, in other words. By not sentencing Mr. Ravi appropriately, he failed to show that his actions have consequences. Even without added jail time, had Judge Berman sentenced Mr. Ravi more creatively, say to community service in an LGBT center, that would have sent a message, some message, any message, that it’s not cool to be anti-gay and you need to learn why. But he failed to do this. He acknowledged Mr. Ravi’s cruelty and lack of contrition. But he failed to fully connect the dots. In the process, justice was not fully served.
Dan Savage talked about learning lessons from this tragedy. He’s right. Lessons do need to be learned. But where there are tepid consequences, there are no learned lessons.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.