To me, it’s no surprise that Dharun Ravi is refusing to accept a plea bargain in the Tyler Clementi case

Recently, I’ve seen articles in the New Yorker, on slate.com, and on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog that all wonder why Dharun Ravi–the boy who is being charged with spying on Tyler Clementi’s sexual activities before the gay teen committed suicide–hasn’t taken the plea bargain that would let him off without jail time and with some protection against deportation (Ravi is not an American citizen).

All of these articles seem to take it for granted that a New Jersey prosecutor will somehow be  able to influence the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and/or a federal judge to avoid deporting a convicting criminal. To me, this seems like an extremely fragile guarantee. We live in a country where people are routinely scooped up and held without trial in immigration lockups and deported. A country where legitimate visa-holders are denied entry to the country for no stated reason. A country where people of South Asian descent are added to mysterious no-fly lists or terrorist watchlists or even targeted assassination lists without any sort of judicial review. This is a country where mentally handicapped American citizens have been deported to Mexico merely because they had hispanic names. Its a country where American-born children are deported along with their illegal parents. This is a country whose authorities are brutally unforgiving to both criminals and to immigrants.

If Ravi takes a plea, then his fate will not be adjudicated by his fellow Americans. It will instead be left entirely to the doubtful sympathies of (largely white) prosecutors and judges who tend to build their careers by fostering hard-line nativist sentiment. To me it’s not surprising that he would be willing to trust himself to a jury that will almost certainly include people of color, recent immigrants, and the descendants of recent immigrants. Sure, his juvenile activities might have had horrible consequences, but I think it’s not impossible that a jury of ordinary Americans might think that ten years in prison and a lifetime in India is too steep a punishment for those actions. Furthermore, I also think that it’s entirely possible that he sees avoiding deportation as being worth risking the possibility of a few years in prison. What is a 19 year old American kid going to do in India? What kind of life is he going to have? In fact, I wonder that more people have not emphasized the racial element in this case. Because of his race and immigration status, Dharun Ravi has to suffer more punishment for this same crime than an American citizen or someone from a less impoverished country would have to. If it wasn’t for that, then I am pretty sure he would have settled and this would all have been over months ago.

10 thoughts on “To me, it’s no surprise that Dharun Ravi is refusing to accept a plea bargain in the Tyler Clementi case

  1. Kevin

    You asked, “What is a 19 year old American kid going to do in India?” Dharun is not American. You should have asked, “What is a 19 year old Indian kid going to do in India?” Look, you need go keep in mind that there is an 18 year old kid who is now dead. A kid who will never be doing anything in India or America or elsewhere because he is dead. Dharun is a foreign adult who is here as a guest and should therefore respect the laws and dignity oh his host country’s citizens. And if he cannot, then he should be punished and thereafter stripped of his privilege – not a right – to live in the U.S. To all appearances, Dharun seems like a Slytherin. One wonders about his upbringing.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      He is dead because he committed suicide, not because Dharun murdered him. He killed himself. The only thing Dharun Ravi is guilty of is making fun of his roommate. Of course, his mockery was very cruel, but I don’t think it was any worse than what millions of teens perpetrate every day. Furthermore, Dharun didn’t choose to come here. His parents brought him here as a child. He grew up here and was educated here. To me, that makes him American.

  2. Kevin

    Tyler is dead because he committed suicide after Dharun publically humiliated him. So we have a sequence of events but not causation as yet, which will be proved or dismissed. So, the central issue is causation – whether the bullying, which I agree is too common, contributed to the suicide. If the jury finds causation, then Dharun’s bullying contributed to the suicide and therefore there exists a criminal nexus, there is criminal causation. The crime would be for a hate crime or even possibly negligent homicide or reckless homicide. All are serious.

    Dharun did not choose to come to the U.S. but one assumes that he has certainly benefitted from his time and education here. But he is not American whether he has grown up here or not. Citizenship is a question of fact, not opinion. His parents should have impressed upon him that he is a guest here and should behave properly. A proper guest does not bully his hosts. (Is this not obvious?) Dharun might feel American, he might feel more at home here than India. Nonetheless, he is an Indian – not an American – citizen. I have lived in three countries outside of my home country. I never forgot that I was a guest there. My parents impressed upon me that I must behave properly – more so than my peers – because of my foreign status and because my actions would reflect upon my nation for better or for worse. Why did Dharun forget his position? How could he? He certainly engaged in improprieties far beyond his station here as a guest. So he forgot that he is here as a guest? It is an ancient legal maxim that ignorance of the law has never been a mitigating factor. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.

    There are many, many Indians, good people, deserving people, who would like to live in the U.S. and and yet so few visas are available. India has more pending visas than almost any other country. There are only a finite number of visas. Take Dharun’s visa and bestow it elsewhere. Dharun is tarnishing the image of Indian immigrants and India. If guilty of a crime of removability (deportability), he should be removed so that another more deserving Indian can enter – one who does not take privileges for granted and who understands that civility and tolerance are American values that should be embraced. Don’t defend Dharun; defend respectable Indians. He blew it: give his spot here to an Indian who better deserves it.

  3. Kevin

    By the way, I like your webpage and your writing and most of your views. I just can’t agree with you on this one… You surprise me.
    I like ‘The driver’ – really touching. I like the your command of understatement. Your writing reminds me of L.E. Modesitt’s.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      I’m glad you liked my story and my blog. I hope that you continue to be a fan! I actually really enjoy the novels of LE Modesitt. When I was growing up, I read dozens of them. I’m glad we can discuss this without offending each other (I am much worse than you at maintaining an elevated tone in online discussion, you’re definitely an example to me). This is definitely an issue in which right-thinking people can disagree, and I totally understand why there’s been such a rush to tar and feather Dharun.

      However, in your above comment, the facts are not quite correct. Ravi is not being charged for having a role in Tyler Clementi’s death. He’s not being charged with negligent homicide or anything to do with homicide. The causation of the suicide is not at all an issue in the trial. In fact, even if Ravi’s lawyers proved that Clementi killed himself for some totally different reason (clinical depression or something), it would not mean that Ravi would win his case. In fact, even if they proved that Clementi had faked his death and was still alive, Ravi would still not necessarily win his case.

      That’s because Ravi is being charged with filming and distributing someone’s sexual activity without that person’s consent. That’s all. That’s all he _could_ be charged with, because it is just not a crime to humiliate someone until they commit suicide. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Ravi is innocent of this crime. It all depends on whether a jury decides whether or not the five second clip he shot of Clementi kissing another man constitutes sexual activity. Since there was no sex in the video, it’s totally possible that Ravi is innocent, under the statute and will be acquitted by the jury.

      This is not a major crime. Everyone recognizes that. Even the prosecutor recognized that, by offering Ravi a plea deal that would spare him from jail. Many bloggers are wondering why Ravi didn’t take this deal (in which the New Jersey DA also offers to try to prevent him from being deported). In my blog post, I offered my perspective, as a South Asian, on why he did not accept this plea. This perspective is that us South Asians (and most immigrants to America, in general) simply don’t trust the government to treat us fairly. If I was in Ravi’s place, I too might decide to roll the dice on the jury acquitting me (of the crime that I am possibly entirely innocent of), rather than trusting in the U.S. Government to do right by me.

      With regards to your comments on what a U.S. green card holder owes to this country, all I can say is that I have a different stance of what it means to be an immigrant to America. This is a country that almost demands that we give up our native heritage–our language and our culture–when we come here. It demands that we raise our children as American. In fact, it takes pride in the level of assimilation that it forces upon us. Unassimilated immigrants get nowhere in this country: they do not get jobs, they do not get good grades, they do not get justice in our courts. I think that after a country has assimilated an immigrant–as its done to Ravi and as it’s done to the children of countless illegal immigrants–then it is awfully scoundrelly for it to pretend that those immigrants are not fully American.

  4. al91206@gmai.com

    If deportation were the only issue here I would agree with you, however if he is convicted of bias intimidation (and after hearing closing statements it would be hard to see a clear path to exoneration) he will serve time in prison and THEN get deported with the prosecutor not discouraging, but encouraging deportation.

    There is also the huge cost that his 3 attorneys must be to his parents. Bottom line is that anyone here on an immigrant visa should try for citizenship as soon as possible. I believe Ravi was eligible (not sure though).

    At any rate – do you know if he is acquitted of the most serious bias intimidation charge but convicted of the others if those are still deportable offenses? If so, he should probably be making plans for a life outside the US.

    The one item I most disagree with on your post is that you describe him as a “boy”. Clearly he is a young man, one who made some bad decisions and those decisions under NJ state law are a crime.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      I think any felony is deportable. As for whether he’s a boy, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. As to whether he’s committed a crime, that’s pretty arguable. A jury will decide.

  5. Kevin

    Bottom line is that anyone here on an immigrant visa should try for citizenship as soon as possible. <– YES. Tell that to all green-card holders – their status here is only conditional. It can be lost more easily than one thinks.

    He really has only a small chance of remaining here as most forms of relief available to him, including Cancellation of Removal for a Permanent Resident, are provisional. Most Immigration Judges, like any judge, are NOT immune to public opinion and the media. He will most likely be ordered removed from the U.S. The thing is, until you have a Certificate of Citizenship, one must really behave like you are being watched. You are just a guest here until that certificate is issued.I wonder why that sense of "I'm a guest; I should behave properly" was not, apparently, impressed upon this man-boy?

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Again, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I don’t think that the law adequately reflects the morality of this situation. Of course, Ravi is subject to deportation, under the law. I, however, do not think that law is just. The fact is that America assimilates children and turns them into Americans long before it deigns to acknowledge that fact by granting them citizenship (and in the case of many illegal immigrants, it NEVER acknowledges that). I think that is immoral, and that the laws that perpetuate these sorts of injustices should be changed.

  6. Anonymous

    I am onboard with Kevin on most of his points. In reply to “one who does not take privileges for granted and who understands that civility and tolerance are American values that should be embraced”. I’m from South Asia, and unfortunately “success, achievements, and money” are often emphasized in the household, but observing basic human respect, compassion, and charity are not subjects touched upon.

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