TRENTON, N.J. — Several hundred protesters gathered Monday at the New Jersey Statehouse to show support for a former Rutgers student convicted of bias intimidation and to call attention to what they see as injustices in New Jersey’s hate-crime laws.
The rally was in support of Dharun Ravi, a 20-year-old former Rutgers student who was convicted in March of 15 criminal counts, including four charges of bias intimidation, for using his webcam to view a brief live clip of his roommate kissing another man. Most of Mr. Ravi’s supporters were Indian-American, like he is.
The roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide days after the online peeping in September 2010 and quickly became a national symbol of bullying victims.
Ravi’s supporters see him as a symbol, too - of the justice system gone awry in search of someone to blame. Ravi could get 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced May 21. He could also face deportation to India, where he was born and lived as a young child and remains a citizen.
“If this kid ends up in jail on Monday,” said Sandeep Sharma, one of the organizers of the rally, “my faith will be shaken in this country.”
Ravi’s attorneys have asked a judge to overturn his conviction. Failing that, they say he should not serve any prison time. In court papers, the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office has said that Ravi deserves prison time - though not the 10-year maximum sentence he faces.
The protesters were mostly professionals, some dressed in business suits. They held signs and chanted slogans such as “No jail time,” and “Drop all charges.” Some held posters quoting former Gov. James E. McGreevey, who is gay, saying Ravi should not be sent to prison.
Ravi, who lives in Plainsboro, was not there, but his parents were. His mother, Sabitha Ravi, addressed the crowd, telling them she thinks the media should help her son.
“They know he didn’t get a fair trial,” she said.
Mr. Sharma said he does not have high hopes for Monday’s rally helping keep Ravi from getting a prison sentence, but said it could lead to changes in the state’s hate-crime laws. He and some others met with the staffs of several lawmakers earlier Monday to talk about bias intimidation.
The rally represented a role reversal for some people in central New Jersey’s large Indian community.
Pradip Kothari said he was among those who pushed for New Jersey lawmakers to introduce hate-crime legislation more than two decades ago after a 30-year-old Indian-American man, Navroze Mody, was beaten to death at a Hoboken train station in 1987 by a group of so-called anti-Indian “dot-busters.”
Mr. Kothari, who now owns a travel agency in Edison, said prosecutors didn’t use hate-crime laws over the years when his previous building, in Iselin, was vandalized.
“In 22 years,” he told the crowd, but addressing prosecutors whom he said were unfair, “you didn’t find one person to try.”