Saturday, March 17, 2012

Justice for Tyler...

After two days of deliberation, a New Jersey jury found Dharun Ravi guilty of a hate crime, as well as evidence tampering and invasion of privacy, for using a webcam to spy on his Rutgers University roommate, Tyler Clementi, in a liaison with another man in their dorm room. Clementi committed suicide in October 2010, a few days after learning that Ravi had watched him on the webcam and tweeted about it to friends.

Ravi was convicted on parts of all 15 counts against him — including four bias intimidation counts — involving Clementi. (The majority of the four counts pertained to the fact that while Ravi might not have intended to intimidate Clementi because he was gay, his actions might have made Tyler feel that was Ravi's intention.)

However, the jury had some difficulty with portions of the bias counts, giving a split verdict on some of the specific acts in which he was charged. The jury found Ravi not guilty of all bias counts pertaining to the man Clementi was seen with during the webcam spying. Ravi's sentencing has been tentatively scheduled for May 21, and he faces deportation to his native India.

Tyler Clementi's suicide sparked national outrage and concern about bullying, especially of gay teenagers. But Ravi was not accused of causing Clementi's suicide, and his defense team tried to present Ravi's actions as foolish and short-sighted, but somewhat typical of an 18-year-old. They also tried to attribute his motivation for the spying not on any bias toward Clementi's sexuality, but because Ravi was allegedly concerned his iPad and other possessions might get stolen by the man his roommate was meeting.

Certainly no verdict can bring Tyler Clementi back to life, nor can it assuage the pain and betrayal he felt in the last days and hours before he made the decision to take his own life. But I was surprised and pleased with the jury's decisions in this case.

While I honestly don't believe Dharun Ravi did what he did because of a hatred or prejudice toward gay people, it's time that homosexuality stops being an acceptable excuse to treat people as less than a person. All too often where judicial decisions are concerned, "gay panic," or other similar defenses, are seen as valid, and can be justification for gay people being beaten, murdered, or otherwise mistreated.

I commend this jury for being willing to listen to, and analyze, the evidence with an open mind and a sense of fairness. For once, it is good to see that in death, Tyler Clementi got some measure of the justice he was denied toward the end of his life.

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