Rutgers Case: Not a True “Hate Crime,” But Justice Served

Posted on May 31, 2012

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Dharun Ravi gave a written apology just before heading off to start his jail sentence for bias intimidation:  “I accept responsibility for and regret my thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish choices that I made on September 19, 2010, and September 21, 2010.”  Ravi had used a webcam to spy on his roommate’s romantic encounter with another man.  Tyler Clementi, the roommate, later committed suicide in response to learning of the intrusion.

Some say Ravi’s sentence – 30 days in jail, 3 years of probation, and 300 hours of community service assisting victims of bias crimes – is too light.  I think the judge got it just about right, and I think Ravi’s description of his own actions as ” thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish” is right on the mark.  Tyler Clementi was just 18, young, inexperienced, and sensitive, and that contributed to his decision to choose suicide.  What Ravi did was wrong, wrong, wrong, but he was the same age as Clementi ; a callow youth, and callow youths do stupid things.  I believe Ravi’s stupid choices had serious consequences:  they led another young man to take his own life.  But I don’t think this was really a hate crime.

I think Ravi thought he was just playing a silly prank.  He probably thought Clementi would be embarrassed and then everyone would have a good laugh, and he would get over it.  In typical callow-youth fashion, he didn’t think things through.  He didn’t think much about the target of his prank (compare this to Romney’s admitted “hijinks” at the same age).

So, no, not a hate crime, and maybe Ravi himself isn’t even biased toward gays.  But the sentence requiring him to assist the victims of bias crimes is perfect.  Our criminal system is supposed to rehabilitate, whenever possible.  When Ravi comes away from those 300 hours, he will have learned the stories of many other victims whose unjust suffering is a result of the prejudices of others.  His eyes will be well and truly opened to what he did, and why – even though it was just a silly prank to him – it became so deadly.

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