A rush to judgement

letter to the editor

Sue Tamber Houseman | 2/6/2014, 12:44 p.m.

There have been calls for the resignation of state Rep. Carlos Henriquez of Dorchester based on his conviction for assaulting a woman. I could not agree more with viewpoints and substantiating actions regarding those who commit crimes against women, but I am worried by the possibility that in our haste to set a zero tolerance policy we have failed to adequately scrutinize the evidence to determine what actually occurred.

Given the lack of a police investigation, the fact that the alleged victim changed her story on multiple occasions and that she was deemed not to be a credible witness, we do not have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an assault took place.

While I look forward to the day when poor behavior in a dating scenario is assessed as unconscionable and treated accordingly on all levels of society, it currently is not the legal standard. Nationwide, officials who have been asked to resign or received scathing press coverage have been proven guilty of far greater and more numerous misbehaviors such as multiple assaults, improper advances and acts of conduct unbecoming their office, including abuse of power.

By contrast, Henriquez has an absolutely squeaky clean record, is not accused of a single prior offense of any sort and may be guilty only of behaving improperly in a dating scenario by continuing unsolicited advances, although proof here is also shaky.

Conviction with inadequate legal proof is not the American way. Further, the first sentencing in settings so much smaller than precedent is likely a misapplication of laws on the books. The fact that a black man is the first thusly convicted under the convergence of these facts smacks of racism and is reminiscent of the era of lynching of black men for sexual crimes against non-black women.

Henriquez’s conviction is deeply disturbing for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it presents the possibility that the conviction is a miscarriage of justice, and that calls for his resignation, therefore, do not serve the vantage point of protecting women. Second, statements such as the Herald’s “Henriquez also, apparently, is a man possessed of violent tendencies and a gaping deficit in the character department” paints a full picture from one episode with minimal and shaky evidence. Finally, public outcries against his lack of remorse are troubling. If the man asserts his innocence when he believes himself wrongly convicted, how can he be remorseful? Given the specious grounds for the conviction, one could only expect him to be shocked and horrified.

I am proud of the fact that Massachusetts has a tradition of liberal social laws, beliefs and policies. But we also have a dark past which includes the Salem witch hunts and segregated school systems. Are we so proud of our liberal traditions and reputation that we rush to judgment? That would leave us as little more than knee jerk liberals.

This hunger and haste to pin blames that has not been demonstrated blindly constitutes mob hysteria. It is a fiasco with frightening overtones of the darker eras in Massachusetts history.

We owe it to Henriquez, his family and community, Katherine Gonzalves, our traditions, the law and ourselves as citizens striving to improve society to do better than this.

Sue Tamber Houseman