The judge in the webcam spy case of Tyler Clementi sentenced Dharun Ravi to a measly 30 days in jail. Judge Glenn Berman had the ability to sentence Ravi up to 10 years in jail and deport him to India for secretly taping and broadcasting his roommate having sex with another man that led to Clementi committing suicide.
The argument is Ravi didn’t intend for Clementi to commit suicide, I get that. But Ravi did bully someone and violate his right to privacy. If Tyler Clementi was an attractive blond white woman would Ravi’s sentence be different? Yes it would.
Remember ESPN reporter Erin Andrews who was secretly videotaped undressing in her hotel room? The man convicted of her crime got 2.5 years in jail. A very similar scenario of what happened to Tyler Clementi.
This case highlights another example of inequities in the justice system. It also sends a message that bullying is ok. Ravi’s lawyer argued his action was a “prank” and the prosecutor argued it was “bullying.” The jury clearly thought it was bullying and found Ravi guilty on charges that could have sent him to jail for 10 years, but the judge gave him 30 days—the sentence for a childish prank.
Another story occurred in the past few weeks where bullying was characterized as a prank. Mitt Romney was confronted about an incident in high school when he hacked off the hair of a presumed gay classmate while his buddies held him down. When a reporter asked Romney about the story he chuckled, said he did a lot of “pranks” in high school and couldn’t remember that incident.
Bullying is not a “prank” and this judge is sending a terrible message, just as Romney did with his cavalier response.
The key justification for Ravi’s light sentence is, of course, that Ravi was not responsible for Clementi’s suicide. According to a very detailed story in the New Yorker, Clementi contacted his resident assistant (RA) for a room change after he discovered Ravi’s spying. [Why would a person ask for a room change, if he was going to commit suicide?]
The RA approached Ravi with the accusation on the day that Clementi committed suicide. Later in the day, after the meeting with the RA, Clementi and Ravi met, shortly after that meeting, Clementi committed suicide. Clementi posted a message on Facebook with a mobile app “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
Five minutes after Clementi posted to Facebook, Ravi sent him a long text. (Ravi later said that he saw the Facebook posting only on the following day.) He told Clementi that, on Sunday night, he was showing Wei his webcam setup when he’d caught an accidental glimpse of Clementi, adding, “Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice.” He said of Tuesday night, “I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn’t work. I wanted to make amends for sunday night. I’m sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured.”
This seems to be a very well-timed and self-serving text. Ravi’s other texts to his friends were expressing how un-happy he was with having a gay roommate. In addition, authorities found that Ravi deleted some of his most damaging messages against Clementi to conceal evidence, including ones about how Ravi tried to set up a second viewing of Clementi’s encounter with another man. So when it served Ravi the best it seems like he had a big change of heart and messaged Clementi a peace-offering.
The question is what really happened in that meeting that triggered Clementi, who for good reasons wanted a room change, to commit suicide. A reasonable person can conclude something happened in the last meeting between Ravi and Clementi that intensified the situation. Did Ravi threaten Clementi with an embarrassing video or an exploitive photograph? Videotaping a roommate is against Rutgers code of contact, and may have resulted in Ravi’s expulsion. Ravi could have threatened Clementi to keep him quite. We just don’t know.
The other prevailing argument for Clementi’s suicide is he was uncomfortable with being gay. Clementi was out to his family. It’s reported that his father was accepting and his mother was a bit on the fence about it. His older brother is also gay. Clementi had on two occasions a guy over to his dorm room to have sex. [If you’re ashamed of being gay you really wouldn’t be flaunting it in front of your dorm, would you? You would find a more discreet place to have your encounter.]
All this brings me to the conclusion that something happened in the last meeting between Ravi and Clementi that put Clementi over the edge. What it was we don’t know. But whatever it was it deserved more than 10 days in jail.