Last week, Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of a hate crime and invasion of privacy in the case stemming from the suicide of his former roommate Tyler Clementi.
The background: In September 2010, Ravi and fellow classmate Molly Wei used a webcam to record Clementi kissing another man. Ravi tweeted about it and shared the video with others. He’d also made plans to host a “viewing party” of Clementi on a date with a man. And while the reasons for his suicide are surely complex and involve an entire culture of homophobia, this case has gotten the attention it has because of the timing of Tyler Clementi’s death, which occurred only a few days after these incidents took place.
Molly Wei made a deal with prosecutors last spring, and Ravi was indicted on charges of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation (hate crimes), witness tampering, and evidence tampering. Bias intimidation is a charge that usually attaches itself to another crime — often, a violent one. Here the allegation is either that by snooping, Ravi intended to harass Clementi because he was gay or that Clementi felt he’d been harassed for being gay.
Ravi, 20 years old, shook his head slightly after the guilty verdicts were read. He could get up to 10 years in prison, and/or face deportation to India, where he was born, despite the fact that he’s legally been in the U.S. since he was a little boy. His sentencing hasn’t yet been determined.
Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s death and the suicide was not the focus of the trial. Some witnesses did mention it, however, and the jury was told Clementi had taken his own life. Also notable is the fact that New Jersey moved the passage of an anti-bullying law through the state legislature more quickly because of this case, and Rutgers changed its housing policies to allow opposite-sex roommates in an effort to make gay, bisexual and transgender students feel more comfortable.
Honestly, I don’t really know how to process this moment. Samhita wrote eloquently about homophobia within the South Asian community in regards to this case, and the New Yorker has a piece up about who Dharun Ravi and Tyler Clementi were: in high school, with their family and friends, and as they entered college. It is a complicated feeling – to be heartbroken for Tyler and his suffering, as well as for Dharun and the trajectory his life will take from this point on, for Tyler’s family who face unparalleled loss, and for Dharun’s who face a different struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.
It’s illuminating that the solutions seem inadequate. Because of the discomfort I feel with the verdict and the simultaneous horror at the loss of Tyler’s beautiful life – which was assuredly filled dreams and hopes of a future in which he was not in so much pain –I want to take a moment to offer some thoughts that might also feel inadequate and uncomfortable in the face of such grief. From our own Jos, who holds the complexity of the issue with great insight:
“A sense of justice for the family and friends of people who have been killed because of their sexuality or gender identity is also valuable. But the ultimate goal should be to end such violence. Harsher sentencing does not decrease the amount of hate crimes being committed. A focus on sentence enhancement for these crimes does nothing for prevention. Putting our energy toward promoting harsher sentencing takes it away from the more difficult and more important work of changing our culture so that no one wants to kill another person because of their perceived membership in a marginalized identity group.”
“Evidence demonstrates that hate crimes legislation, like other criminal punishment legislation, is used unequally and improperly against communities that are already marginalized in our society. These laws increase the already staggering incarceration rates of people of color, poor people, queer people and transgender people based on a system that is inherently and deeply corrupt.”
Tyler Clementi’s suicide is one in a long string of young queer kids taking their own lives. There were many before him and there have been many, even since September 2010. I don’t believe that Dharun wanted Tyler to take his own life, but I do believe that his actions betrayed a deep homophobia. And that homophobia within a world that doesn’t fight back against it nearly hard enough, contributed to Tyler’s suicide. As I said, I don’t have an answer — I just know that the solutions so far, seem inadequate and incomplete.