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Restorative Justice? Judge Assigns Pulse Massacre Essay to Man Who Damaged LGBTQ+ Street Mural

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 28, 2022
Originally published on April 27, 2022

Alexander Jerich
Alexander Jerich  (Source:Palm Beach Country Sheriff's Department)

In what may be an example of restorative justice, a A Palm Beach County circuit judge declined to pursue felony charges in a case involving property damage to an LGBTQ+-themed street mural — and he assigned the accused to write an essay on the Pulse massacre, USA Today reports.

As previously reported, Alexander Jerich, 20, was arrested and convicted after using his father's pickup — which was adorned with a Trump flag at the time — to burn tire marks across an intersection at Delray Beach in South Florida that had been painted with the colors of the Pride flag.

"Jerich had been participating in a convoy organized by local Republicans to mark former president Donald Trump's birthday," Buzzfeed News recalled.

Police identified the suspect after cell phone video of the crime went viral.

"Mr. Jerich turned himself in to the police last June and pleaded guilty on March 1 to criminal mischief of over $1,000 and reckless driving causing damage to property," the New York Times detailed.

There were calls for Jerich to face substantial prison time, with LBGTQ+ advocates calling the act of vandalism a hate crime.

But Judge Scott Suskauer of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Florida expressed surprise at the impression Jerich gave him, saying, "I was expecting someone who displays complete disrespect for their fellow citizens," USA Today noted. "A person some might call a thug or a redneck."

Instead, Jerich seemed the picture of a lost and lonely young man, the very definition of a youthful demographic that some say radical right-wing groups target and groom for violence against the LGBTQ+ community and other minorities. USA Today detailed how Jerich "hung his head and cried after hearing his father recount his son's struggles in school, his inability to make friends and his disappointment in his son's behavior."

Jerich himself told the court he " had problems in the past with fitting in" and "was just trying to fit in and be accepted" among the gathering of Trump supporters.

Judge Suskauer felt that he needed more time to decide on a sentence for Jerich, but in the meantime he assigned the youthful offender a 25-page essay on a painful slice of recent LGBTQ+ history: The June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, when a lone gunman murdered 49 gay and Latinx clubgoers and wounded 53 others in a terrifying hours-long rampage.

The reason for the assignment, Judge Suskauer said, was that "Jerich seemed to have little understanding of the meaning of the rainbow-colored gay pride mural he defaced or the struggles of the LGBTQ community," USA Today relayed.

The act of property damage took place last June, mere days after the mural had been completed in celebration of Pride. According to the BuzzFeed article, Jerich had been egged on to commit the act of vandalism by others participating in the convoy. A witness told authorities he had heard a man shouting encouragement to "tear up that gay intersection.' "

The judge's approach won cautious praise from Rand Hoch, who, BuzzFeed recalled, had written in an impact statement that Jerich "was not just a young man fooling around with his truck. Jerich sought to make a very public statement against the LGBTQ+ community.... At a welcoming public venue representing inclusion, Jerich literally left marks of hate."

But after the judge's words, and the essay-assignment he gave Jerich to complete, Hoch said, "I went in there prepared to be disappointed and I came out impressed," the Times imparted.

For his part, Jerich — according to his lawyer — "acknowledges and regrets the pain and anger felt by members of the LGTBQ community."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.