Sometimes prosecutors and juries get it wrong.  Fortunately, the judge presiding over the trial of Dharun Ravi got it right.  Walking a very fine line in a case that fired passions on all sides, Judge Glenn Berman made the distinction “between behavior that society would call criminal versus behavior that society would call despicable,” as a friend of the judge was quoted saying in today’s New York Times.

In the court of public opinion—and even in the courtroom itself—it was clear from where I sat that Dharun Ravi was being tried for Tyler Clementi’s murder.  His reprehensible actions were perceived by many as the cause, rather than the potential trigger, of Clementi’s suicide.

This was a tragic story from the start, but there was an opportunity to take a closer look at what happened and learn from it.  Instead it turned into a blame game, with Tyler Clementi’s parents helping to lead the charge.  I can certainly imagine why they would.  Their son was dead and the person who likely triggered his decision to jump from the George Washington Bridge had to be held accountable.

It’s easy to scapegoat Dharun Ravi.  He’s hardy a sympathetic character in this heartbreaking drama.  But he’s only one player in a complex and still mysterious set of circumstances and events that led one college freshman to end his life.  As in any suicide, those left behind, including Dharun Ravi, are sentenced to years of painful reflection as they try to understand what is so rarely understandable and struggle to figure out what role they may—or may not—have played.

Now it’s time for everyone to move on.  Justice is done.  Inelegantly, perhaps.  Unfairly in the eyes of some.  Fairly in the eyes of others.  But I can only hope that Tyler Clementi’s too-short life will inspire his family, friends, and former roommate to help prevent other troubled young people from killing themselves.



2 Responses to Dharun Ravi: The Punishment Fits the Crime

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  2. Jesse says:

    I can remember this case. There was a webcam in the victim’s living quarters before it happened. I don’t think Ravi, considering his youth, can be held responsible for the death itself. It was a sick practical joke and he didn’t anticipate the outcome. But I do think criminal liability at a lesser level is appropriate in similar cases. I don’t control the courts–yet we are increasingly in an era where persons are expected to calculate possible consequences of their acts, and refrain from doing things that are likely to harm. As with heightened penalties for drunk driving, for instance.

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