I feel compelled to comment on the sentencing in the Dharun Ravi case, the student who made a video recording of his gay roommate’s encounter (Tyler Clementi) at Rutgers University, posted it online, and Tweeted about it.
Invasion of privacy is supremely uncool, especially when you do it to a college roommate. Ravi should have expected (and been dealt) as severe ostracism as any snitch at Rutgers has ever received, because the only reason why Ravi felt that his roommate’s behavior was interesting or noteworthy enough to record or comment on publicly stems from Ravi’s own homophobia. At the college I went to, no one would read anything like that posted online because no one would care. It’s not as if someone being gay at a college campus is a fresh, new idea. However, that being outed in this way would have caused so much social and emotional trauma for Clementi that he simply couldn’t continue with his life probably speaks more unfavorably of Rutgers and Clementi than it does of Ravi. Apparently, being gay at Rutgers is such a big deal that a student would feel that Tweeting about it might interest another Rutgers student.
Talk shows are bubbling over with comments from callers expressing how much we need to “send a message” about this kind of crime being so unacceptable and intolerable, to ensure that it “never happens again.” Firstly, the message was sent when we passed the Patriot Act after 9/11: We don’t actually give a shit about the invasion of privacy anymore, as the Patriot Act allows it to be thoroughly and completely invaded up one side and down the other. Secondly, as long as there is ignorance, there will be hatred, and as long as there is hatred, things like “bias intimidation” will continue to exist. Ensuring that this “never happens again” would require criminalizing ignorance, and we’re already the jailingest nation on Earth. If ignorance were made illegal, whole states would have to be set aside for incarceration purposes. In fact, if everything were made illegal and people were just kept in individual cages and left on an automated food, water, and cleaning cycle nothing bad would ever happen to anyone again.
But back to my first point, our Government doesn’t actually care about invading privacy, so why would they care so much when Ravi did it? Maybe the U.S. Government only cares when entities that are not the U.S. Government invade privacy. Wait. That can’t be true, otherwise they would shut down Facebook. So we’re back to square 1: why try Ravi for this when the very institution that runs the court system doesn’t give a shit about what he did?
As for “bias indimidation” (whatever that means), the judge in the case did not think Ravi was guilty of this, as he made no threats towards Clementi. One cannot intimidate without a threat of coercion at the very least. (Otherwise there’d be no difference between “intimidation” and “scaring,” and if we make scaring people illegal there will be no hope for us as a free society, nor should we deserve any.) I can’t believe that prosecutors got away with charging Ravi for this.
So, here’s our government, charging a college kid who did a dick thing to his roommate with one accusation that it clearly doesn’t care about, and another that the defendant in question didn’t actually commit.
Anyone who thinks for one second that this case would have gone to trial had Clementi not killed himself after Ravi outed him is a complete idiot.
When you consider this last idea–that the case probably would not have gone to trial at all if Clementi didn’t take his own life–Ravi’s sentencing is way too harsh.
Yes, we should “send a message,” but not when the message is “The court of public opinion is outraged. Do something about this Ravi kid or we’ll be even more outraged.” Every criminal who is sentenced to be made an example of is an individual who will have to serve that prison term and arguably should have the same rights to equity in sentencing as any other prisoner. Three years of probation is a ridiculously long time for something that would be regarded as a “prank” 15 or 20 years ago, and that’s only provided the Government actually thinks that invasion of privacy is wrong.
Bullying sucks, homophobia sucks, and discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation sucks. Draconian sentencing, however, also sucks. Ravi did not force Clementi to pull the trigger. Making Ravi pay for the results of an untreated mental illness in another (no one commits suicide when everything is A-OK) is dangerous.
Yes, once again you could argue that Ravi is “paying” for invading the privacy of another, but then again you’re assuming that the Government actually cares about that (see paragraph 3 above)…
Now you see why I’m so perplexed.