The teen who defaced a Jewish cemetery has a chance to educate us all. And the court has an opportunity to make sure that he does because it defies credibility that 19-year-old Eric Carbonaro of Warwick did not understand the effects of scrawling a swastika and “Heil Hitler” at Beth Shalom Cemetery in the fall of 2016.
He was the president of his class at S.S. Seward High School. He is a college student in New York. When the investigation started closing in, he told a friend to delete evidence. He pleaded not guilty, hired lawyers to fight the charges. And although he did offer one sentence of condolence — “I’m deeply sorry to the Jewish community and the community as a whole.” — when he finally entered a guilty plea, neither those representing the Jewish community, the Orange County district attorney nor the judge are convinced.
Suzanne Leon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, said in court that Carbonaro has shown no remorse and that “Without remorse, there can be no mercy.”
Yet mercy without remorse is exactly what Cabonaro is after as he seeks the status of youthful offender which would seal the conviction, effectively removing it from the public record.
That is why it is so important that Judge Craig Brown did not limit the sentence to the usual conditions — time in jail through the end of August, probation to follow, 150 hours of community service in Orange County by next February. To qualify as a youthful offender, the judge said, Carbonoro has to convince the court that he deserves that second chance.
And that is not going to be easy because Carbonaro will have to explain to the satisfaction of the judge and the community how he evolved to a point where he would not only harbor such hateful thoughts but be moved to act on them in a very public, very disturbing way.
He will have to explain to all those friends and relatives who provided testimonials on his behalf in court that he was not who they thought he was and then explain even more about where he learned to be not just enamored of such bigotry but to be an activist and advocate.
His lawyers would have you believe that one day a successful, popular young man woke up with an irresistible urge to promote hate, chose a target, bought some spray paint and then went out for pizza and a movie.
No, the acts that he has now admitted did not arise spontaneously. We need to know how they evolved, who else shared them, who encouraged them either actively or passively by not correcting him when he revealed such notions.
Explain all that and perhaps — just perhaps — the judge will be convinced not only that the remorse is real but that the actions were something that the young man did not fully comprehend. And then we all can start on the next conversation, the one that tries to understand how someone growing up here and now can think this way and act this way without someone intervening along the way to stop him.