May 22, 2012
Gay-rights backers: Ravi merits probation
(UPI) -- Some U.S. gay-rights advocates say Dharun Ravi, guilty of spying on his gay college roommate and another man with a webcam, deserves probation, not jail time.
"Ravi may have been the last person who made [Tyler Clementi] feel unsafe and abused and worthless, but he couldn't have been the first," syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who is gay, told The New York Times ahead of Monday's sentencing of Ravi.
Ravi was convicted by a jury March 16 of 15 counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence, witness tampering and hindering apprehension or prosecution.
"The rush to pin all the responsibility on Ravi and then wash our hands and walk away means we're not going to learn the lessons of these kids," Savage said.
Ravi, now 20, set up a webcam to spy on Clementi, 18, Sept. 19, 2010, three weeks into their freshman year at Rutgers University, after Clementi asked to have the room alone so he could be with a man he had recently met on a Web site for gay men.
Ravi -- an economics student who was proficient in the use of computers -- told friends and Twitter followers afterward he saw his roommate "making out with a dude," evidence prosecutors showed in court indicated, and urged them to watch a planned second tryst between Clementi and his friend that Ravi said he would stream from his webcam Sept. 21.
The Sept. 21 spying episode never took place because Clementi, who became aware of the first incident -- and of plans for the second -- by reading Ravi's tweets, unplugged his roommate's computer.
On Sept. 22, 2010, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge more than 200 feet into the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City.
His suicide prompted an outcry from celebrities and politicians and brought national and international attention to the issue of cyberbullying and the struggles facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens.
It also prompted New Jersey to pass one of the nation's strictest anti-bullying laws.
Ravi, who was never charged in Clementi's death, faces a maximum 10 years in prison.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman has the authority to choose a variety of scenarios, from five years' probation, and possibly community service against bullying, to the maximum term.
Experts tell The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger it would be highly unusual for Ravi to be sentenced to the maximum time because he has no prior record.
If sentenced, Ravi faces the possibility of deportation because he is a citizen of India, even though he has lived most of his life in New Jersey.
Jim McGreevey, who resigned as New Jersey governor in 2004 after declaring himself "a gay American," argued in a Star-Ledger column April 29 that jail time would neither rehabilitate nor send a message.
"Perhaps the long trail of gay history inevitably leads to this call for punishment, but it need not," wrote McGreevey, who now counsels prisoners.
Prosecutor Julia McClure said she would not push for the maximum sentence. But she urged Berman to ignore pleas from pundits.
"Those opinions are largely, if not entirely, uninformed and discredit the intelligence and commitment of the citizens who were selected to serve on the jury panel," she wrote in a memo to the judge cited by the Times.
Ravi's attorneys argued for probation, saying in a 33-page brief "the uniqueness of applying the bias intimidation statute in the absence of any violence [or threats] manifest the truly extraordinary nature of this prosecution."
Columbia University law Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, who directs the university's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, told the Times she believed the sentence would have to match what others would get.
"Most 20-year-olds who commit serious crimes don't get community service," she said.
She compared Ravi's case to that of a teenager who kills someone while sending text messages and driving.
"It shows the same disregard of human life and human dignity that stems in part from immaturity," she told the newspaper. "The texters are not texting with the intent of causing someone's death, but if they cause injury or death, they are held accountable. To have them just engage in a public-service campaign against texting while driving is not what we do in our current system."
"It shows Quang cao googlethe same disregard of human life and human dignity that stems in part from immaturity," she told the newspaper. "The texters are not texting with the intent Quang cao tren google of causing someone's death, but if they cause injury or death, they are held accountable. To have them just engage in a public-service campaign against textingc Quang cao google adwords while driving is not what we do in our current system."