Incarceration may not be appropriate punishment
I was involved in a “Justice Not Vengeance” campaign in fall 2010 for Dharun Ravi. A now defunct New Brunswick community direct action group I was involved in called “Queering the Air” organized the campaign to present a different narrative than the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, as well as what had been circulating in the press and among mainstream LGBTQ organizations. I’m not attempting to speak for the organization, but I feel that the idea of “Justice Not Vengeance” ought to be reintroduced, and I feel compelled to share why I decided to join this campaign.
The guilt felt in association with the death of Tyler Clementi is being placed on a scapegoat. A young immigrant college student has become the victim of a liberal activist mindset that seeks to treat this suicide as an isolated incident, and not as an epidemic. But, this epidemic is symptomatic of a culture that is not as queer-friendly as it would like to be in a time when it has become fashionable to advocate for LGBTQ rights. Those straight allies and uncritical LGBTQ activists who seek vengeance for the LGBTQ community ought to examine how heterosexual privilege is reproduced tacitly and explicitly in our culture and day-to-day interactions. I think we ought to be honest in that we all know people who behave like Ravi, and that he was not necessarily acting outside the norm by getting away with disrespecting LGBTQ people in our society.
Sure, Ravi is guilty of invading Clementi’s privacy, but the sad irony is that Clementi’s privacy has been invaded over and over again in the media and by the politicization of this issue by certain LGBTQ groups. To charge Ravi for bias intimidation is to naively presume that Ravi deviates from a norm of tolerance. Homophobia is not his sin — it is a sin carried by our culture and our society.
As somebody critical of the prison-industrial complex and the assumption that the corrections industry is an adequate means by which societal ills are “fixed” — and considering that it is an institution in which LGBTQ people as well as people of color and immigrants like Ravi fare particularly worse than others — I question whether incarceration ought to be seen as an appropriate way to remedy homophobia. I really hope that Ravi has a chance to reintegrate into society and I do not think he is an evil homophobe. If we were to actually put people away for hatred and bias intimidation of LGBTQ people, the corrections system would be overwhelmed. In this scenario, the demographics of the prison population would be similar to those of Congress, Wall Street or fraternities — not like the current situation in which there is a disproportionate amount of poor folks and people of color occupying the prison cells.
Michael Carr is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in history and women’s and gender studies.