Nineteen-year-old Florida resident Alexander Jerich was looking for a way to commemorate the birthday of his hero, Donald Trump. Simply driving around West Palm Beach in his white Chevy pickup truck, with its giant Trump flag flying proudly from its bed, just didn’t seem to make enough of a statement.
Even so, on June 14, 2021, he joined a parade of 30 or so like-minded individuals to pay homage to Trump’s birth date by loudly demonstrating their fealty in a noisy parade of motor vehicles, all organized by the Palm Beach County Republican Party. The idea (apparently) was to rub Trump in the faces of the liberal townfolks: to provoke an outraged response, just like Trump used to do.
As he passed through the intersection of Northeast First Street and Northeast Second Avenue, all newly painted with the bright colors of LGBTQ pride (a memorial to the victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, when a gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub, killing 49 people and wounding 53), Jerich was struck with a moment of inspiration: Why not deface the mural with his truck tires? What better way to show his allegiance to Donald Trump than by “sticking it to the Libs” with such a cruel, “in-your-face” gesture?
The painstakingly crafted rainbow mural adorning the intersection, paid for by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, had only been there for two days. So this seemed the perfect time to vandalize it, being Pride Month and all. No better way to honor Donald Trump’s birthday and legacy than to publicly mutilate some piece of art celebrating the gay community. Well, no one was in Mr. Jerich’s head at the time, so we’re left to guess at what his motives truly were.
But someone did happen to have a smartphone to record Jerich’s act of senseless vandalism for posterity. That video is below:
As set forth in the police affidavit, summarized by Jaclyn Peiser for The Washington Post:
As he drove over the mural, Jerich “intentionally accelerated the vehicle in an unreasonable unsafe manner in a short amount of time, commonly referred to as a ‘burn out,’ ” the affidavit said. “The Chevy truck continues to recklessly skid sideways.”
The skidmarks extended for about 15 feet, causing damage to the mural that would require over $2,000 to repair. (A witness told police he heard another member of the “parade” egging Jerich on to “tear up that gay intersection,” suggesting that Jerich’s act of vandalism was more spur-of-the-moment than premeditated.)
Either way, what Jerich didn’t count on was the fact that his license plate tags were clearly visible to anyone watching at the time. According to the Palm Beach Post, after the video was provided to police Jerich (now 20) was contacted, turned himself in, and was promptly arrested. He posted bond and last week ended up in front of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer.
As Jane Musgrave, reporting for the Palm Beach Post, explains, Jerich has agreed to pay restitution for the damage he’d caused. He also pled guilty to criminal mischief and reckless driving charges, and appeared quite remorseful about his actions, crying during his initial hearing and claiming he’d always had trouble making friends and that his behavior in this Trump rally was an effort to “fit in.”
Last Thursday Judge Suskauer put off Jerich’s sentencing hearing until June 8, but in the interim he ordered Jerich to write a 25-page essay about the Pulse Nightclub shooting, with special emphasis on each of the 49 victims murdered in that mass shooting. As Musgrave reports:
In addition to researching the backgrounds of the 49 people who died and the loved ones they left behind, Suskauer told Jerich to offer his own views about why such tragedies occur.
“I want your own brief summary of why people are so hateful and why people lash out against the gay community,” he said.
Peiser’s report for the Post notes that hate crime charges were not brought against Jerich because “Florida’s [hate crime] statute states there must be a specific victim targeted.” Prosecutors have requested the judge sentence Jerich to 30 days in jail, with five years probation, which the judge agreed to consider. But Palm Beach’s residents—particularly the gay community, understandably livid at what seems undoubtedly a hate-inspired crime—are urging a longer prison sentence.
The judge has indicated, however, that he doesn’t want to assign a felony conviction due in part to Jerich’s age. He has said he wants Jerich to do volunteer work for some community LGBTQ-supportive organizations, although Rand Hoch, the president of the Human Rights Council, reportedly told the judge that “none of the groups he deals with are interested in having Jerich as a volunteer.”
Further, even though Hoch asked that Jerich be banned for life from the intersection he defaced, Suskauer said it might be good for the young man to be reminded of the damage he caused. He said he may order Jerich to visit the site weekly, accompanied by his father, to keep it clean.
Outside the courtroom, Hoch said he was pleased that Suskauer was taking the case seriously.
As Peiser’s article notes, beyond his excuse of wanting to “fit in” and be “accepted,” Jerich has provided no specific reason for his actions. Interestingly, neither Peiser’s Washington Post article nor Musgrave’s piece for the Palm Beach Post spend any effort connecting the context of Jerich’s behavior to the fact that he was demonstrating his loyalty to Donald Trump at the time. Perhaps they believe that readers will draw their own conclusions.
In the meantime, Jerich’s essay is due in court on June 8.
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