By Zach Goldaber
Widespread outrage erupted earlier this week when it was announced that Dharun Ravi had been sentenced to 30 days in jail, despite being convicted on 15 counts in the now-infamous Tyler Clementi suicide case. For those uninformed about the Clementi suicide case – one that is too complicated to recount here, I highly recommend reading Ian Parker’s summary of the events for the New Yorker, which is both a very complete account of the story and a very engaging piece.
A complete breakdown of the verdict on various counts can be found here, but in the end what matters is that Dharun Ravi is a convicted felon, sentenced by Judge Glenn Berman to 30 days in jail, three years of probation, a 10,000 dollar fine, and 300 hours of community service. Many say that the terms of Ravi’s sentencing are not enough – indeed, as of the evening of May 25th over 47% percent of respondents in a (nonscientific) Huffington Post online poll felt that Ravi’s sentence out to have been more severe, versus 22% who wished for a lighter sentence and 30% who felt it was correct.
I do not feel it within my judgment to determine whether Dharun Ravi committed a hate crime in his conduct toward Tyler Clementi. Too many facts relating to the events of the week leading to Clementi’s suicide are unknown, and we unfortunately cannot know all of the factors that led to Tyler Clementi’s suicide, just as we cannot know Ravi’s real motives. What is clear is that the event was a tragedy and Ravi’s immature and hurtful actions – whether they were borne of homophobia or not – certainly seem to have contributed to an innocent 19-year-old’s death.
What is important is that Ravi’s conviction and sentencing means that his life is effectively ruined, even if he will not spend much of the rest of it imprisoned. Ravi is now a convicted felon – which means that he cannot vote and will almost certainly never be hired for any of the jobs the son of a successful software engineer might aspire toward. Anyone who meets Ravi for the rest of his life will be to Google his name and see the story of what his unfortunate actions as a college freshman. Despite Judge Berman’s recommendation against deportation, it is indeed possible that Ravi may still be returned to India, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. I use “returned” very loosely, as Ravi’s family left India when he was five-years-old and he is as culturally American as the vast majority of US-born citizens. India would most certainly not be home to Dharun Ravi.
Some gay rights advocates feel Ravi should not be given jailtime at all, or that he has been turned into a scapegoat for an issue far more complicated than it appears at face value. Others feel the sentence has been too lenient, like founder of the It Gets Better video project Dan Savage, who deemed it “far, far too lenient – a slap on the wrist”. The issue is too complex for me to take a stance either way on, particularly in Ravi’s case, where the line between simple disgusting behavior and an even more onerous level of hate is so strongly blurred. But those who do stand on either side of the sentencing issue ought to know that Ravi’s life has been impacted far, far more than the simple slap on the wrist 30 days in jail would indicate – for better or for worse.