First published on Nerve.com on March 16, 2012. Read the original here.
Dharun Ravi, the former roommate of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, was found guilty today of a majority of the charges against him, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest. Ravi now faces up to ten years in prison and even deportation to India.
In September of 2010, Ravi used his webcam to watch Clementi and a male date in their shared room, and encouraged others to watch as well. Two days later, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Prosecutor Julie McClure argued that Ravi was motivated by the fact that Clementi was gay, and that his actions were tantamount to an anti-gay hate crime. McClure also argued that Clementi was clearly made uncomfortable by Ravi even before the webcam incident. Ravi’s attorney claimed that his actions came from a place of immaturity and not maliciousness, and were simply the actions of an unthinking eighteen-year-old. (For probably the most nuanced look at the situation so far, go read this excellent New Yorker article.)
I’ve written about the case in these virtual pages before, but to sum up: this is, undeniably, a shitty situation all around, and there would never be an outcome that could fix that. And Ravi was guilty of those charges, as far as we can tell. But I bet there are many of us who have committed an invasion of privacy at one point in our lives. Unfortunately for everyone involved in the Rutgers case, the situation ended in suicide and not just hurt feelings and a room change. It’s sad that Ravi’s life is pretty much ruined; it’s sadder that Clementi’s is ended. I can honestly say I hope Ravi gets a lenient sentence.
The only hope I can see for anything positive at all to come out of this moving forward is that the rest of us don’t wash our hands of the matter. Because our culture is guilty here as well. I know how trite that sounds, but it’s true: our culture was an environment in which Clementi was so distraught at the idea of people knowing he was gay that it helped pushed him to suicide. So let’s remember that this wasn’t tied up in a neat little bow, because it would be so easy to say we fixed the problem and move on. But there is a hell of a lot of work to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and putting a college kid in jail doesn’t cut it.