In New Brunswick, New Jersey, a trial just ended that seemed to touch off a wave of controversy. A college student by the name of Dharun Ravi spied on his gay male roommate, Tyler Clementi via webcam while he was having a sexual encounter with his male lover. Once the word got out about it, Tyler became so distraught that he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge. For his actions, Ravi could have been sentenced to 10 years (“bias intimidation” being the most serious charge), but instead only got a mere 30 days. The varying factor was whether this case could have fallen under the jurisdictions of a “hate” crime. Many gay rights activists feel this sentence was much too lenient and there has been talk of an appeal. A couple of people asked my opinion on this subject, so I figured I would offer it on my Daily Thought page today. It is true that Ravi’s conduct was cold and inhumane. He sought to embarrass his roommate because of his sexual orientation. However, under this definition by law, that doesn’t necessarily qualify as a “hate” crime. Hate crimes usually involve some form of intimidation and that is the one element of this case that seemed to be lacking. Most people agree that this kid should not have gotten the 10 year maximum, but that doesn’t mean that he should have gotten off so lightly with a 30 day sentence either. Now keep in mind that he has to also do probation, community work and pay $10,000 to a gay rights organization. I am a firm believer that jail should be the option for only those people who have “no hope” of being rehabilitated. This young boy was a college student with a bright future who committed his very first offense. As reprehensible as his actions were, he did NOT kill his roommate. Emotionally a lot of people want to see him pay for the death of Clementi, but there is no concrete law established for “embarrassing someone to death.” Some say that the wrong message is being sent when someone can do something like that and get off with such an easy sentence. I agree, but I don’t think 30 days will be easy for him to do by “any” means, especially if he is put in with the general population. While there are probably many calls for “his head on a platter” he already has to live the rest of his life knowing the influence his insensitivity had on another person’s life. That is not something easy to deal with. Yes, this man should be punished, but sometimes mental punishment can be much more devastating than any physical punishment. No matter what, the life of Tyler Clementi cannot be brought back and it would be a travesty to destroy two lives in the process. Until we can significantly clarify the legal definitions of “hate” then we all need to accept the meagerness of this punishment handed down. It may not feel right, but hopefully this will give us incentive to change the law. Either way, there are “no winners” in this case, and that is the biggest tragedy of all….
The legendary duo Ashford and Simpson in concert with Brett Jolly