The state rep and domestic violence

He was convicted of two counts of domestic violence resulting from a date – or a hook-up – gone very wrong.  State Representative Carlos Henriquez was sentenced to 2 and a half years and has to serve 6 months.  This happened on January 15 and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Much of the debate centers around his sentence since in Massachusetts most first time offenders are told to stay away from the victim and go to a batterer’s program.  Henriquez is planning to appeal.  The Boston Globe reported

State Representative Carlos Henriquez will spend six months in prison after a jury convicted him Wednesday of holding down a woman and punching her in the chest after she refused to have sex with him.

Jurors convicted Henriquez of some of the acts of violence he was accused of, but acquitted him of others.  The lawmaker was found guilty of two counts of assault and battery, but he was acquitted of a charge that he had struck the victim in her face. Jurors also found Henriquez not guilty of witness intimidation and larceny.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Henriquez was without expression as Cambridge District Court Judge Michele Hogan said she was sending him to prison in part because of the serious nature of his crime and because of his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions.

“When a woman tells you she doesn’t want to have sex, that means she does not want to have sex,” Hogan said. “You don’t hit her. You don’t punch her. . . . I’m very concerned that you’re not remorseful.”

State Representative Carlos Henriquez of Dorchester looked toward the jury Wednesday.

State Representative Carlos Henriquez of Dorchester looked toward the jury Wednesday.

I have to interject here that I worked for Carlos’ mother, Sandi, for a number of years and he occasionally stopped by the office.  She is now a high-ranking official at HUD.  His late father was a community activist and very involved in the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative not too far from where we live.  Carlos had a promising career ahead of him but something happened.  The incident for which he was convicted occurred not too long after his father’s death and with his mother mostly in Washington, perhaps he felt adrift.  The family always appeared to be close and he lived in an apartment connected to the family house. But this does not excuse what happened.

A few days after his conviction, Farah Stockman wrote a compelling piece published in the Globe opinion section.

You know your political career is on the rocks when the evidence that is produced in your assault trial is a fake fingernail. Bright pink.

What’s the jury going to think when they see that fingernail, found in the Zipcar you drove when you picked up the 23-year-old college student who accuses you of hitting her after she refused to have sex?

Are those jurors thinking: “A Zipcar! What an ecologically conscious elected official?” Probably not.

You know your reputation as an up-and-coming politician is bound to suffer when the most compelling evidence in your favor is a series of racy messages between you and said college student, sent from your VoteforCarlos e-mail. Katherine Gonsalves picks you out of the crowd at a community meeting, and asks to interview you for a class paper. Days later, she’s asking: “Are you still coming out to play tonight?” You’re a 35-year-old man. You’re Carlos Henriquez, representing the 5th Suffolk district. You’re the son of a well-known political family. A man whose endorsements are sought in mayoral campaigns. But you answer: “For Sure. I hope you are ready.” And you spell it F-O-S-H-O. Then you misspell her name in your phone.

Five months later, she’s begging you to come over. “Babe, I miss you,” she texts. You’re too busy, making the kind of neighborhood appearances that got you elected. Late into the night, she’s still trying to get you to pick her up. She describes partying with her sister and her sister’s friends, drinking. Your response: Send the address if you want to have sex.

Monica Lewinsky, anyone?  Anthony Weiner?  Elliot Spitzer?  Or even worse, Chandra Levy who ended up dead in Rock Creek Park.  Even though someone else was convicted of her murder, suspicion ruined the a California Congressman, Gary Condit with whom she had been having an affair.  Sex and politics are a lethal combination.  Elected officials seem never to learn and in the Henriquez case, there is not only political ruin but jail time.

More from Stockman

You pick her up. You both climb into the backseat of the car. What happens next defines both of you, maybe for the rest of your lives. She tells you she can’t go home with you as she had planned because her mother caught her sneaking out of the house. You complain that she dragged you all the way over here. You argue. She pulls out a cell phone and tells you she’s recording you. Do you struggle over the phone? Steal the SIM card? Do you backhand her, punch her, and choke her — and then climb into the driver’s seat and drive into Boston, without ever giving her a chance to get out of the car?

Or did everything happen differently? We don’t know your side of the story because you never take the stand. All we know is that your defense itself is unflattering: Your lawyer says you only wanted sex, but Gonsalves wanted more, and went “Fatal Attraction’’ when she didn’t get it.

I heard the evidence at the trial and I’m still not sure exactly what happened in the car that night. Justice, at its best, is an approximation. In the end, the jury — five women and three men — had an easier time picturing Carlos Henriquez beating a young woman than that young woman making it up, bruises and all.

Carlos Henriquez is clearly guilty: if not of assault, then of really poor judgment. In court, Gonsalves looked miserable in the witness box. Henriquez looked miserable at the defense table. Once, she stole an awkward glance at him. I felt sorry for them both.

So why sentence him to jail time?  On the surface, the only difference between Henriquez and other men who are convicted of domestic violence and get sent to a batterer’s program is that he is an elected official.  Unfortunately for him, the incident comes on the heels of the Jared Remy case.  Jared Remy was in court for beating up his girlfriend and mother of his child the most recent in a series of incidence with increasing violence.  He was released and, the next day, she was dead.  I think the trial is this summer.  The DA has said that releasing him was an error.

My question is this:  why have men been let off the hook so easily in the first place?  If I am right and the Remy case served as a wake-up call to the criminal justice system, the sentence of Henriquez to jail time was fallout.  When other men are also given jail time, we will know that things are finally changing for the better.

And a final word to Carlos:  Please resign.

Photograph:  Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

President Obama and leadership

Like many of his supporters I am frustrated at times by what appears to be indecision on the President’s part.  You have to admit that he can take a long time to make a decision while speculation dominates the media and the blogs as to what he will do.  Look at the still to be announced appointment to be Chair of the Federal Reserve.  But when I get frustrated I tell myself that he is playing a long game.  Farah Stockman had an interesting op-ed in the Boston Globe today explaining better than I could the Obama style of leadership.

I am going to quote most of it because I can’t figure out where to cut it (and because one can’t read it from the link without a Globe subscription) and it isn’t that long..

Before we start hand-wringing over the gridlock in our domestic affairs, let’s savor the good news on the international front: Last week, after years of paralysis, the UN Security Council mandated the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and endorsed a political transition plan that might finally sweep Syrian President Bashar Assad aside.

And after years of Iran’s refusal to talk seriously about its nuclear program, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that he wants to resolve the issue in 12 months. He and President Obama even spoke on the phone, the first such contact since the 1970s.

Of course, we’re still a long way from solving those two problems. But we’re on a far better path than we were three weeks ago. Back then, we were on the verge of launching a unilateral military strike that would have inflamed the situation in Syria and hurt our chances of getting a nuclear deal with Iran. So how did that no-win situation in Syria turn into something positive? And what does this bizarre chapter in US diplomacy tell us about the nature of leadership itself?

Recall that Obama announced that he had made a decision to strike. Then he asked Congress to give its blessing. Those moves allowed time for Americans to debate, with the whole world watching. Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus were forced to contemplate the possibility of a US strike. The uncertainty of what would happen next weighed on them more heavily than a knee-jerk cruise missile. In the end, the threat of US military action proved more powerful than the action itself. Our adversaries finally agreed to a diplomatic solution that they had refused in the past.

Of course, Obama got called a lot of names for the delay that made that outcome possible: “weakling,” “ditherer-in-chief,” and— nastiest of all, in some corners —  “community organizer.” I must admit that I thought he was crazy for going to Congress, which often seems more eager to tar and feather him than to approve of anything he wants.

But political theorist Dennis Thompson, co-author of the book “Why Deliberative Democracy?” says Obama’s moves mirrored a style of leadership Thompson taught at Harvard. Thompson believes that, in a true democracy, a leader ought to explain the reasoning behind the course of action he or she wants to take. But in the end, wherever possible, the group itself should debate it and have the final word.

It stands to reason that a country that believes in democracy should have faith that a decision debated openly by a group will usually produce a better outcome than a decision one man makes alone. So, why then were some Americans so infuriated that Obama took the issue to Congress?

“It is as if we expect decisions of war and peace to be made by the president rather than society as a whole,” said Archon Fung, another Harvard professor who has studied the virtues of “deliberative democracy.” “Decisions about when to use military force . . . involve killing as a state act. If any decision should be made democratically, it’s this one.”

Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University, sees the public reaction as a sign of the times. Americans have grown less interested in the public deliberations that that make democracies work. Participation on juries and PTA meetings are at an all-time low, he said. Voters expect their elected leaders to solve their problems. Debates over the best way to go about it are seen as a sign of failure or weakness.

“Our system is supposed to be deliberative,” Levine said. “But we live in a profoundly anti-deliberative moment.”

So maybe this episode says as much about us as it does about our leader. We like John Wayne presidents, saviors who rescue us with their quick trigger fingers. We don’t like leaders who admit uncertainty, who ask us to help choose between imperfect options. But, at the end of the day, the Syria debate taught us that when Americans deliberate as a people, we can come up with a better outcome. It’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget.

President Obama is certainly not John Wayne, but he is the leader of a democracy.  We need to remember this when we get frustrated.

Florida’s strange gun laws

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and have concluded that one reason for the verdict is Florida law.  I’ve read the jury instructions and while they were confusing, they had to follow the law which led to acquittal.

The best piece I’ve read on Florida gun laws is an OpEd by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe.  Stockman writes about Florida gun laws generally and cites 4 currently incarcerated people as examples:  Marissa Alexander, Ronald Thompson, Orville Lee Wollard and Erik Weyant.    All but Alexander are white men, all including Alexander fired a gun to frighten and not to kill.  All are currently serving 20 year minimum sentences.

IF IT BOGGLES your mind that George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old with a gun, could be acquitted after pursuing — and killing — an unarmed 17-year-old, here’s another brain teaser: How could Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, receive a 20-year prison sentence for firing a bullet into a wall near her abusive ex-husband, even though no one was harmed?

It’s true. Florida is one of the worst places to fire a gun into the air, even as it appears to be one of the best places to actually shoot at a person.

Marissa Alexander of Florida received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband.

Marissa Alexander of Florida received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband.

She goes on to explain.

Alexander, whose ex-husband admitted that she was afraid of his abuse, is not the only one in prison for shooting at nothing.

Ronald Thompson, 62, a disabled veteran, fired two shots into the ground to protect an elderly woman from her violent 17-year-old grandson. State Attorney Angela Corey — the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case — charged him with four counts of aggravated assault. Thompson was sentenced to 20 years in prison,  a punishment that the judge in the case called a “crime in itself.”  (He is currently awaiting a new trial.)

Orville Lee Wollard, a former auxiliary police force member, shot a bullet into the wall to scare away his daughter’s abusive boyfriend. Prosecutors offered him probation. But he wanted to be exonerated at trial. Now he’s serving 20 years.

Erik Weyant, 22, fired shots in the air to disperse a group of drunk men who accosted him in a parking lot outside a bar and blocked his car. No one was hurt. But he’s in for 20 years.

In many cases, the fact that they chose to fire a warning shot, instead of aiming to kill, was used as evidence against them at trial, said Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. If you were truly in fear of your life, the logic goes, you would aim at the chest, not the wall.

Florida lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, began to notice that a lot of people were getting severely punished simply for defending themselves. But instead of repealing the Draconian measure, they passed another one: the “stand your ground” law.

Somehow, both of the laws are not working.  George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin is free, the four named above are in prison.

…And had Alexander shot and killed her abusive ex-husband, would she have had a better chance of getting immunity with a “stand your ground” defense?

“I think so,” said her attorney Michael Dowd.

So in the sick logic of Florida’s gun laws, the message is clear: If you are going to shoot, shoot to kill. You stand a better chance of walking free.

What is happening in Florida is just another reason we need to take a careful look at all of our gun laws.  Florida’s gun laws have little to do with race and as pressure mounts to help Alexander, let us not forget everyone else.

Photograph:  Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union

Local Terrorism: the third wave

It is early days yet for both the investigation and the legal process but we are beginning to know bits and pieces about two brothers, graduates of Cambridge Rindge and Latin, the same school that produced Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who decided to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Farah Stockman had a very thoughtful column in the Boston Globe this morning.  She begins with a book written in 2008 by Mark Sageman, a former CIA psychiatrist, who predicted “The threat is no longer ‘foreign fanatics,’ but people who grew up in the West.”   His book is “Leaderless Jihad”  Stockman continues

We still don’t know how much support the Boston Marathon bombers had from overseas. Chechnya’s main militant group, Caucasus Emirate, denies any link to the brothers. Instead, the Marathon bombing appears to be the work of what Sageman describes as the “Third Wave” of terrorism. The Third Wave isn’t about Al Qaeda grooming recruits and dispatching them to do its bidding. It’s about young men who surf the Internet and decide on their own to write their names in history with a bomb. They get inspiration from Al Qaeda. In some cases, they even get training. But they are the ones that seek it out.

“Like Harvard, Al Qaeda did not have to recruit,” Sageman wrote. Young men came in droves, begging for an affiliation.

Sageman says the average recruit at Al Qaeda Central in the 1990s was nearly 30 years old. The average Third Waver is in his early 20s. The majority of Al Qaeda Central grew up in religious homes. About 75 percent of the Third Wavers had fairly secular childhoods.

So why would they turn to building bomb and other acts of terrorism.

For some, it was out of a warped romanticism for a homeland they barely knew; an act of rebellion against hardworking immigrant parents who brought them to the West for “a better life.” Others were US-born converts to Islam who found in terrorism a sense of camaraderie and purpose that had eluded them all their lives. A few became terrorists after years of gang-banging and drug dealing. It was an ideology that transformed their violent tendencies into something heroic. It made them feel they were on the side of the angels.

Both Tsarnaev Brothers were heavy smokers of marijuana and local police are now looking at a connection between them and the murder of the man Tamerlan once said was his only American friend.  Brendan Mess was one of the victims of a triple homicide.  The murders have never been solved.

Third Wavers “are basically trying to find out who they are,” Sageman said. “Their identities are very different from their parents. What they imagine their parents’ country to be never really was.”

That rings true of the Tsarnaev brothers, whose parents immigrated to the Boston area in 2002. The older brother, who dropped out of community college and was once accused of assaulting a girlfriend, might have been casting about for something to believe in. Searching the Internet for information about his troubled homeland in Chechnya would have yielded a trove of jihadi websites full of rhetoric about America’s “war against Islam.’’ As he became more radical, he may have dragged his more outgoing and successful younger  brother down with him.

We will know much more in the days and months ahead, but I think that Sageman and Stockman are right:  the time of terror from outside is over.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not the first local to be tried in Boston.  Tarek Mehanna, from nearby wealthy suburb  Sudbury  was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to support Al Qaeda. He was sentenced in April 2012 to 17½ years in federal prison.  His actions also surprised everyone who knew him.

These crimes may have been inspired by outside forces, but they are crimes in an ordinary sense and the voices, mostly Republican, clamoring for miliary tribunals and an end to immigration have it all wrong.  I think part of the venom is because Boston is a symbol of what the right calls “liberal” America.  And maybe we are.  But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen and deserves to be tried as one.  He is not an “enemy combatant”.   And if Sageman is right, and he appears to be, we can expect to see more of these incidents and trials in our future.  And as the right complains about unanswered questions, we have to remember that some information will be kept for trial and some questions we won’t know the answers to for a long time.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013.  Copley Square.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013. Copley Square.

The miracle for Boston is that there were only four people killed and close to 300 now reported as injured.  All of the injured are now expected to live.