Why does Dharun Ravi face up to ten years in prison when other cyber bullying cases that are more clear cut, obviously showing malicious intent have faced no charges much less prison time?
Ravi had set up a webcam on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, both college freshmen at Rutgers in New Jersey, when Tyler informed him that he was having a 32 year old man whom he met on the Internet come to their room for a date. Ravi videotaped Tyler’s side of the room and then publicized the tape. Ravi dismantled it (or it failed to work) by the next date, and apologized to Clementi. Both roommates didn’t want to room with the other by this time. However, subsequent to the tape being made public, Tyler committed suicide.
After a long deliberation, the jury gave mixed verdicts — some charges he was found guilty of (invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence) and some not guilty. Those associated with the “not guilty” were because it was not proven that he was malicious and homophobic. The guilty verdicts came in for charges dealing with invasion of privacy and hindering prosecution and intimidation.
So, although this case gained national attention and helped usher in cyber bullying legislation, most media analysis (here, here, and here, to name just a few examples), legal professors, experts, and even an alternate juror believes the ten year sentence and possible deportation is too stiff a penalty for the 18 year old.
What if Clementi’s date was a female and Ravi taped it? In how many hazing and other idiotic freshmen collegiate activities that lead to senseless, tragic death are the accused serving serious prison time?
The case also gets fuzzier because Ravi dismantled the camera after one incident. Ravi also apologized to Clementi and the apology was accepted before the suicide. In addition, Clementi had already come out to his family. His suicide notes and Facebook update and his previous history indicate he may have been suffering from depression.
Ravi’s tough sentencing is because this falls under New Jersey’s latest hate crime legislation. Yet, was this a hate crime in the true sense of the word?
After all, it was not like the case of Hope Whitsell, Jesse Logan, and Phoebe Prince, who were terrorized by their bullies for months on Facebook and texts for being a “slut.” In Phoebe Prince’s case, there was also rape.
In Phoebe’s case, the accused were only given probation and community service. No one has been charged in the Hope Witsell and Jesse Logan’s cases though Hope’s parents have filed a lawsuit with the school — she had reached out to counselors who did not notify her parents of her suicidal thoughts.
There are a few things I notice when I read that:
- the killer of 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin, killed because he “looked suspicious” (he was carrying Skittles) is not even charged;
- Genarlow Wilson, an African American 17 year old with a promising future, who was convicted for ten years for having oral sex with his consenting 15 year old girlfriend;
- a pregnant woman and her husband who are offering to pay for a $5 sandwich they overlooked at checkout is separated from her 3 year old ,who is taken into child services while her parents spend a night in prison;
- teen girls’ rapes go unnoticed by our justice system
When I read about these injustices, I can’t help but start looking at the similarities. And aside from a terrific lack of common sense in our justice system, what I see are white males not getting much time for crimes they commit. Non-white males get prison for anything and everything. And if white men are the victims, the accused are charged and often serve sentences. Women just get shafted across the board.
I also notice that homosexuality has become highly politicized. Just like the “race card” became just that: a card that can be played whether or not the situation demands it, so too is there now a “gay card.” I am all for cards because that means it is on the public radar; there are consequences to crimes. But cards also mean they need to be assessed more carefully and not everything is thrown under the same bus.
Perhaps the recent Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke debacle will ignite a “slut card,” but it will be a long time in the coming. Society has ingrained notions of “good” girls and “bad” girls (even these teens were viewed as such tragically which is why the good girl, Phoebe Prince, got more attention than the others), of viewing women — no matter what their credentials as in the case of Hillary Clinton — over beauty and morals in ways society does not judge men.
And finally, the school system in the US is seriously lacking and not just in academics. We are failing our children: suicidal thoughts are not followed through in a responsible manner with appropriate experts being consulted; cyber bullying is not being taken seriously by school officials; families are not engaged or not being engaged; ignorance abounds about sexuality, hetero or homosexual.
When there is the death of a youth involved, fairness doesn’t seem to have a place in relation to the accused. Yet, there have been far more clear-cut cases than the Ravi case. Is it just to have these others be walking freely when Ravi faces ten years? And more important, why was he chosen, why was this case chosen to be the example to be made?