The New Jersey judge in the case of the Rutgers’ student who Tweeted his roommate having sex with another man has had to speak out in defense of his sentencing the defendant to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service time and a $10,000 fine. It’s a shame he felt he had to do so, but it is also totally unsurprising.
But ridicule and invasion of privacy, as awful as they are, are not physical abuse. Ravi did not beat, rape, torture or murder Clementi. While there was a probability of emotional harm in his actions, there was no inevitability of physical harm. There is a big difference between sending out Tweets urging others to make fun of someone and beating them senseless. To conflate the two minimizes the horror of the physical attacks that gay men and lesbians are sometimes subject to.
Furthermore, it minimizes the autonomy of Tyler Clementi himself.
Judge Berman was right: prison is not the answer here. Sending Ravi to prison for five years as the prosecution requested would have done nothing but make him a martyr of sorts for homophobes everywhere. Prison needs to be reserved for the worst offenders, those whose crime cannot be adequately punished any other way. That we so often fail to do so — witness the number of people in prison for nonviolent drug-related offenses — doesn’t mean we should throw just anyone in a prison cell because we abhor what they did. It is too easy to rename our desire for retribution as a demand for justice.
The system worked well here. I hope Darhun Ravi understands how fortunate he is that it did.