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Tyler Clementi roommate sentenced to 30 days in county jail

Parents of defendant deliver emotional statements at sentencing hearing

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A New Jersey judge today handed down a sentence of 30 days in jail for the former Rutgers University student convicted of committing a bias crime for using a webcam to spy on a dorm room tryst between his gay roommate Tyler Clementi and Clementi’s boyfriend.

Clementi took his own life days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, creating an uproar among gay activists and attracting international media attention over the issue of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

Some claimed the action by defendant Dharun Ravi, 20, was responsible for Clementi’s suicide. But Ravi’s attorney argued during the trial in March and Middlesex County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman said in court on Monday that Ravi should not be held responsible for Clementi’s death.

“I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi,” Berman said in explaining his sentence. “He had no reason to, but I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity.”

Berman said the bias crime to which Ravi was convicted is not the same as a hate crime. He called the sentence he imposed “measured” and “balanced.”

He said he will recommend to U.S. immigration authorities that Ravi not be deported upon the completion of his jail sentence, but said immigration officials rather than he would make the final decision on that issue.

Ravi, who was born in India, came to the U.S. as a child. His mother told the court he no longer speaks his native language and was raised as an American. Ravi obtained permanent resident status but is not a U.S. citizen. Under U.S. immigration law, he is subject to deportation for a felony conviction.

A jury convicted Ravi on several felony counts, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering efforts by police to investigate the case. He faced a possible sentence of 10 years in prison.

Middlesex County prosecutor Julia McClure told the judge Ravi “has shown no remorse” since his conviction. She said all of Ravi’s actions toward Clementi “were planned, they were purposeful and they were malicious,” disputing claims by the defense that Ravi had merely committed a youthful “prank.”

In addition to 30 days in a county jail, Berman sentenced Ravi to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a total of $11,900 in fines and assessments. He also ordered Ravi to undergo counseling for cyber bullying and education on “alternate lifestyles.”

The sentence came at the end of a two-hour hearing that included emotional statements from Clementi’s mother, father, and brother and both parents of Ravi, all of whom struggled to hold back tears.

Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, told the court Ravi appeared uninterested in becoming friends with her son from the time she met him when she and her husband helped Tyler move into his Rutgers dorm room. She said she believed Ravi chose not to be more welcoming to her son in the ensuing weeks because he learned her son was gay.

Ravi’s mother told the judge her son isn’t a hater and “has never hated anyone,” saying he has suffered immensely in the time since his 2010 arrest in connection with the case. As she finished speaking she embraced her son, who was sitting at the defendant’s table as both wept.

In the months leading up to Monday’s sentencing hearing, some gay activists and gay bloggers joined Indian-American groups in speaking out for leniency for Ravi, saying a sentence as long as 10 years would be an injustice.

New York gay attorney Bill Dobbs, who has argued that hate crimes laws violate First Amendment rights of free speech, was among those who called for a less severe sentence for Ravi.

Berman’s sentence of 30 days came as a surprise to some court observers, who noted that the judge spoke harshly of Ravi’s action in a statement immediately prior to delivering the sentence. Berman also pointed out that Ravi remained seated as he began issuing the sentence rather than stand, which is the normal practice in sentencing hearings. Ravi’s attorney rose to his feet, saying it was he who failed to remind Ravi to stand and it was he who should be blamed for the defendant remaining seated.

Those calling for a lenient sentence for Ravi have noted that his webcam spying on Clementi, which resulted in his arrest, has been incorrectly reported by many media outlets, including network TV news programs and bloggers.

“It became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online,” New Yorker magazine reported earlier this year. “In fact, there was no posting, no observed sex, and no closet,” the magazine reported in a lengthy piece on the case.

The New Yorker and other media outlets later reported that the webcam, which was viewed only by Ravi and some of his friends, showed Clementi and his boyfriend kissing.

Since the time of the incident, news surfaced that Clementi was out to his parents and his gay brother, James Clementi. Prosecutors at the trial presented evidence that Ravi nevertheless subjected Clementi to an illegal invasion of privacy that was motivated by bias based on Clementi’s sexual orientation.

Evidence presented at trial, including records of Ravi’s computer messages and Twitter postings, showed that he observed on the webcam Clementi “making out with a dude.” He then reported what he saw in Twitter messages. According to prosecutors, Ravi placed his webcam in the room to spy on Clementi two days later and invited others to watch. This time, Clementi, who already had seen Revi’s Twitter postings, turned off the webcam.

Additional evidence showed that Clementi reported the incident to a dormitory official, requested a change of room, and viewed Ravi’s Twitter feeds about the incident a total of 38 times, prosecutors said.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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