Monday, May 21, 2012

Reason #196: Judicial Restraint

I have issues with the concept of hate crimes. On one hand, I'm not sure that whether someone is thinking about my race or politics or orientation while they're murdering me needs to drastically affect the extent to which they're punished for it. On the other hand, that's the law as it stands right now, so if that person did  kill me because of a prejudice, well, fuck 'em.

I had an opportunity to chew this over a lot when 20-year-old Dharun Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation, legalese for "hate crime", a couple months ago. What's known about Ravi is that he secretly filmed his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, in bed with some older man and posted about it on Twitter, which eventually got back to Clementi, who killed himself a couple days later.

The way I see it is that this is a bullying issue more than a prejudice issue - Ravi's a young and naïve guy, and harassing your weird roommate is an absolutely universal college thing to do. That doesn't make it fine--nor did it when Mitt Romney was in high school--but I think it would be better to step up anti-bullying laws rather than try to shoehorn things like this into the same mold as what happened to Matthew Shepard.

The judge in Ravi's case, as well as the author of this great article on Slate, seem to understand where I'm coming from, and I was very happy to hear that the judge eschewed the far more serious range of hate crime sentences--10 years in jail and possible deportation--in favor of 30 days in prison and a healthy dose of community service. That doesn't negate the bias intimidation conviction, but it's a far more reasonable punishment and hopefully will allow Ravi the opportunity to actually learn something from this, and eventually move on with his life.

The problem is, what will become of the next guy in Ravi's situation if the judge isn't feeling so understanding?

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