Today, Dharun Ravi was convicted on all 15 counts stemming from his videocasting of his roommate Tyler Clementi’s sexual encounters with another man.
From the beginning, the state had a very strong case on some of the charges. Ravi himself had initially admitted to police that he had invaded Clementi’s privacy. The witness tampering, evidence tampering, and hindering prosecution charges were the proverbial “slam dunks” for the prosecution. Yet, Ravi was also convicted on MULTIPLE charges of bias intimidation. This was a bit of a surprise, but as one juror noted:
You can’t know what someone’s thinking. You have to get inside their head,” he said. “Afterwards, you think about it not being done once, but being done twice another day. That’s why we came to that conclusion.
Which brings me to a larger point: I sincerely doubt Dharun Ravi is a raging, foam at the mouth, knuckle-dragging homophobe. That said, I do believe that he videoed Clementi having gay sex because he was contemptuous of Clementi precisely because Clementi was a gay man. And acting on that contempt, which is homophobic, in NJ, in conjunction with the other easily provable crimes makes it a hate crime. Ravi acted criminally on the bias, the homophobia, that many Americans hold towards queer people.
I have written elsewhere on the lethal danger of thoughtlessness. Yes, Ravi did not PUSH Clementi from the George Washington Bridge. But his deliberate sexual humiliation of Clementi, a devastating experience for anyone, helped trigger the ensuing series of events. Ravi’s actions were motivated by a desire to humiliate an individual who was a sexual minority, especially because Ravi attempted to videocast Clementi and his companion more than once. Ravi actually bragged that his efforts were to “keep the gays away.” Would those who are dismissive of Ravi’s hate crime convictions be as smug if Ravi had Tweeted he was trying to keep the Jews away? The Blacks? The Italians?
Ravi’s defense tried to invoke the “thoughtless boy” defense, inferring that thoughtlessness cannot possibly be criminal. Ravi’s attorney basically argued that he was only 18, brand new at college, and very immature. This immature dumb lad really didn’t understand the consequences of his actions. But this is a class-based argument since frequently affluent young people don’t pay any real consequences for their thoughtlessness. If you doubt this, think about an 18-year-old African American young man, living in poverty, who is arrested for seemingly minor drug possession. This country has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of young black men for the last 30 years in the name of enforcing responsibility for non-violent, nay trivial, drug crimes.
To be quite blunt, at age 18, you can be drafted to kill for the United States–whether you are a citizen or a resident alien. You are an adult as far as the political and legal systems are concerned. And the US legal system expects you to think things through, whether you choose do so or not. Clearly, Ravi failed this expectation of adulthood. Ravi has been convicted of multiple felonies. And as a resident alien, he will face the additional penalty of deportation after he serves his jail time.
I’ve been watching these events ever since the news broke of Tyler Clementi’s suicide. It has been excruciating experience for me as an educator, queer scholar, and Rutgers faculty member. There is nothing about this tragedy nor the ensuing trial and verdict that is edifying or redeeming. That said, this verdict is just as it relates to Mr. Ravi. But for the Clementi family, there is little justice. Their son and brother remains dead and buried, bullied unto death because of his orientation.