When the guilty verdict was handed down in the Dharun Ravi trial a couple of months ago, I expressed some concerns. Like many people, including many gay rights activists and writers, I felt very uncomfortable with calling loutish behavior a bias crime. I have mixed feelings about hate crime laws in the first place, and I feared the repercussions and potential for backlash if the definition of hate crimes became too broad and unclear. From everything I had been able to read about the Tyler Clementi case, it seemed pretty clear that Ravi acted like a horrible schmuck (an impression reinforced by his apparent lack of contrition in the meantime) and had obstructed the investigation that followed Clementi’s suicide, but I was unconvinced that convicting him of bias intimidation was just.
Upon reading of the light sentencing Ravi received (30 days in jail, plus probation and community service, sensitivity training [a concept I personally believe to be worthless] and a fine), my primary reaction was one of relief. Given my qualms with his conviction in the first place, the next best thing to an acquittal was a light sentence. I find myself agreeing with Emily Bazelon’s thoughtful, mournful piece from yesterday (via TNC, who has much the same to say):
I’ve been opposed to Ravi serving prison time—not because I condone what he did, but because a harsh sentence seemed out of proportion given the stupid and jerky aspect of the invasion of privacy he committed. I can understand, too, why he feels that he has born more than his share of the blame for Clementi’s death. But I found myself wishing that he’d helped Judge Berman out today by giving a self-aware and mature accounting of himself. By acknowledging, at least, that he can understand why it’s wrong and hurtful to spy on a young gay man and send a titillated tweet like “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” I wanted some showing from Ravi, in other words, that he has grown up. Instead, he stayed silent, and his letter to the court, asking for leniency, was “unimpressive,” as Judge Berman put it.
It’s that lack of remorse that makes me think that all the sensitivity training in the world won’t make any difference for young Mr. Ravi. If he’s not sorry now (and given that he hasn’t said he is even when it would have served him well to do so, why should I generously speculate that he is secretly less of a cad than he appears?), then nobody will be able to talk him into it. And spending a decade behind bars won’t make a difference, either. It might satisfy a desire for retribution, but that’s not the same thing as justice. The intensity of my distaste for him is not a reliable indicator of how severely he should be punished.
Maybe there will come a time when Mr. Ravi will feel what we want him to feel. That’s what we really want, isn’t it? To know that he knows what he did was wrong, and why. To know that he means it when he says he’s sorry. But the chances don’t improve the longer he’s incarcerated. If anything, a lengthy prison stay would make it worse. All that remains for us is to be sorry ourselves, and to wish that these two young men had never been put in the same room together.