Then Who Are You…?

28 May

Today after a long day at work I needed something to take my mind off all the hodgepodge of data that I weeded through. And so I stumbled across the latest NYT headline: Ex-Rutgers Student Gets 30 Days in Jain in Bias Case.

The Backstory: The case is one that I think most are somewhat familiar with: two years ago, then freshman, Dharun Ravi used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, having sex with another man. Dharun watched the video from a friend’s computer and then tweeted about it as it was happening. Days after the incident and finding out about being publicly exposed, 18 year-old Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Ravi was soon thereafter charged on 15 accounts for invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence, and hindering prosecution.

Today Judge Berman sentenced him to 30 days of Jail time, 300 hours of community service, counseling on cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles, and a $10,000 fine to help victims of bias crimes. Though it should be noted that this seemingly light sentence was accompanied by harsh words of criticism, for what it’s worth.

Some Legal Intricacies: Reading about the case made me curious starting with, what the heck is a bias crime? Answer: An act already has to be considered criminal, at which point hate crime laws can be applied to increase the penalties for those acts of crime. In this case the base crime is four counts of invasion of privacy and to each count of “Bias Intimidation” was applied.

For Example:
COUNT 1: Invasion of privacy on Sept. 19, 2010, for setting up remote camera in dorm room to watch Tyler Clementi. (4th degree)
• Maximum sentence: Up to 18 months in prison; no presumption of jail time.
• Actual sentence: Probation

COUNT 2: Bias intimidation on Sept. 19, 2010, for setting up the camera to watch Clementi with another man, a move that made Clementi feel intimidated. (3rd degree)
• Maximum sentence: Up to 5 years in prison; no presumption of jail time.
• Actual sentence: Probation

In Judge Berman’s sentencing his specifies that the jail sentence wasn’t due to the invasion of privacy of the bias intimidation, but rather the tampering of evidence.

Also it is important to note (and took me a little while to wrap my head around) that Dharun Ravi’s trial is completely independent of Tyler Celementi’s suicide. As in, from the court’s perspective, if Celemnti had not committed suicide and were still alive today, than the charges, trial and subsequent sentencing against Ravi should have been no different, no more or less severe. That the emotional trauma from the Ravi’s actions led to suicide, is an unfortunate but legally irrelevant consequence.

The Real Point (in my eyes): While the story and the legal shakedown is, at least I find, fascinating, ultimately our legal system is a practical way of answering a very basic question: how do we learn from our mistakes (our sins) and become better citizens to humanity? On an individual scale I preach forgiveness and self-improvement, the closest legal equivalent I believe would be rehabilitation. But for a society you have to add an addendum. The question becomes: how do we learn from our mistakes (our sins) and become better citizens to humanity, while ensuring that the peace at large is safeguarded? Answer: Justice.

What I find myself wondering, is did anyone stop to ask the first part of the question? Has Dharun Ravi stepped back and reflected on the past year and half of his life and asked, what does this mistake, this sin, mean about my service to humanity? What is my real crime?

“His youth and immaturity were unable to provide him with the tools necessary to appreciate the consequences of his action.” – Defense Attorney Altman

His mother cried, insisting that he’d learned his lesson. And yet Judge Berman and the prosecution say they’ve never heard any form of an apology from Dharun’s mouth. The day after Tyler’s suicide Dharun Ravi texted a friend “How can I convince my mom to let me go back Friday night and get drunk.” He rejected three different plea bargains that would have called for no jail time but would require admission to hate crimes. Dharun’s attorney, Steven Altman, uses the defense of youth, driving at the distinction between stupidity and hatred, callowness versus bigotry.

So my question is, Dharun Ravi, if you’re not a bigot then what are you? If it wasn’t because Tyler was gay then what was the reason? Are you just insensitive, or self-serving or perhaps morally ambivalent? You’ve committed a sin and it’s not good enough to diminish the magnitude of the act by dismissing the perhaps unforeseen consequence (in this case a man’s death) to improbability. Nine times out of ten what you did would have resulted in some taunting, some humiliation, and yet another human being feeling self-hatred– no big deal. But this time it resulted in suicide. The gift and curse of humanity is that we have the power to significantly influence others and completely alter the trajectory of their lives. Our choices have consequences outside our own silo existence. So, Dharun Ravi, based on your choices…Who are you?

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3 Responses to “Then Who Are You…?”

  1. isfahaaan May 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    My dad mentioned something about Ravi’s lawyer advising against apologizing or something, based on something he read in India Abroad, I think. Don’t know how looking stone cold could help his case, though. Anyway, I couldn’t help but find his general demeanor in the court proceedings along with that text to be indicative of a lack of remorse. Which the judge seemed to pick up on, too. I don’t really buy the whole “blame it on youth” garbage because even he didn’t understand the implications of what he was doing at the time, uh, his actions are directly tied to someone’s suicide. He’s had time to let it sink in, but who knows what’s going on in his head. I don’t know how I could live with myself after something like that. That text really bothers me…I hope he’s evolved since then. I guess others won’t really make it easy for him in life, even if he’s come to terms with it. A means of justice in its own right.

    • somethingstrangeandbeautiful May 28, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      So I read the blog and it’s interesting but my problem with the author’s analysis is that it assumes maturity is a very short spectrum: green, yellow to red. At some point we “stop” maturing and this is called adulthood. Now maybe it’s because I’m 24 and refuse to admit that my life is now over (or over at whatever point my prefrontal cortex stops growing) but I just don’t buy that the emotional aptitude for realizing bullying is bad behavior is only a breakdown of our brain’s growth. I’m toying dangerously close now to a nature vs. nurture debate here.

      The earlier we start infusing our youth with stronger values, lessons in empathizing with others, and practice being in ethically grey climates testing their integrity- well the earlier our youth will “mature.” It’s not about age, it’s about development.

      We aren’t developing our youth early enough or intentionally enough. We coddle them, distract them and let them grow up in cultural bubbles (I am no exception). And then we say the following: “None of these cases requires, or even suggests, that young people not be held accountable for their actions. Instead…they are considered ‘less guilty by reason of adolescence.'” At what point do we remarry accountability with culpability?

      Our Justice system requires tries to make black and white out of grey, an impossible challenge really. But a young person’s cues for development should never comes from the Justice system. Dharun Ravi and every other young person has to make the decision to hold themselves accountable, on their own accord at some point.

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