Leon Rivera was shocked when he saw pictures of his state representative, Carlos Henriquez, in shackles at the State House. Rivera knows the Dorchester Democrat as a tireless advocate for the people in his district, which also includes parts of Roxbury.
“That’s not the person I know,’’ Rivera, 24, an Uphams Corner resident, said of the image of the handcuffed lawmaker. “They made him seem like a criminal, like he killed someone.”
Tony Van Der Meer, a University of Massachusetts professor who lives in Henriquez’s district, was also upset and blames Henriquez for helping to create the State House spectacle by refusing to accept responsibility for a conviction on a charge of assaulting a woman.
“He could have avoided that by resigning,’’ Van Der Meer said. “I felt sad for him. I felt embarrassed for black people in general because our personal, political, and collective issues are all related. Symbols are very powerful.”
Across Boston’s black and Latino communities, Henriquez’s return last week to the State House, as an unshaven inmate, his hands cuffed and chains around the waist of his dark blazer, has triggered powerful emotions and sharply divergent responses.
Henriquez’s supporters say the treatment of Henriquez is unjust and would be less likely if he were white. But critics say Henriquez is wrongly being held up by some as a sympathetic victim, obscuring an even bigger issue , domestic violence.
“The black community is obviously shocked and in some ways traumatized to have yet another black official sentenced to jail,’’ said Kevin Peterson, founder of the voter initiative New Democracy Coalition.
Henriquez, 37, was jailed last month on two misdemeanor assault charges for holding down a woman in July 2012 and punching her in her chest for refusing to have sex with him. He denied the charges.
He was immediately handcuffed and ordered to serve six months of his 2½-year sentence. He has twice been summoned to the State House to appear before the Ethics Committee. House leaders are pressing him to step down, but so far, he has refused.
His conviction by an all-white jury, his immediate imprisonment, and, now, the push by mostly white House leaders are feeding a deep distrust some blacks and Latinos feel about the criminal justice system and government in general.
“The system itself is broken when it comes to convicting us,’’ said Alvin Carter, a Dorchester resident. “If they want you bad enough, they will come and get you.”
Many in the minority community point to recent convictions of African-American lawmakers Chuck Turner, a former city councilor who served 28 months for a bribery conviction; and Dianne Wilkerson, a former state senator who pleaded guilty to attempted extortion, as evidence that their leaders are unfairly targeted.
“Seems like they want to make a statement,’’ said Chris Matthews, a 43-year-old resident of Dorchester, pausing inside the Grove Hall Library one evening. “Seems like they want to make an example out of him.”
On the weekend, Jamarhl Crawford, the outspoken editor of the blog Blackstonian, fired off a point-by-point online missive dissecting the case against his friend Henriquez and pointing out what he said were flaws in the police investigation, the victim’s account, and the judge’s ruling.
“There is an overall attack on black leadership,’’ Crawford said. “We see it with Chuck. We see it with Dianne.”
Prosecutors have strongly defended their case against Henriquez. Crawford’s blog post has enraged other observers in the city who have been quietly seething about the lack of outrage about Henriquez’s actions on the morning of the incident and the limited public support given to victim Katherine Gonzalves, who was 23 at the time of the assaults.
“I’m angry and furious about the silence from our leaders, particularly because of what it says to minority women and girls who name their abusers,’’ said the Rev. Manikka Bowman, part of an online faith group called The Rooted Community. “For me, that is the tragedy. Should we have to make a choice between our women who experience violence and men of color’’ who have had negative experiences with the justice system? she asked.
Deb Nam-Krane, a novelist from Jamaica Plain, said she is also incensed by what she said is an unwillingness to acknowledge that Henriquez’s accuser is a victim of battery.
“I don’t know this woman,’’ said Nam-Krane. “He’s in a position of power. She’s not. And a lot of people see that as a story that she is trying to entrap and exploit him. And that is unfair.”
Henriquez, born to civic activist parents, has long been an advocate for the communities he represents. He has helped boys in trouble, worked with people to find jobs, and advocated to help clean up a stretch of Blue Hill Avenue frequented by prostitutes.
During the mayoral campaign, he was a sought-after activist. He campaigned for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has now asked him to resign.
Gonzalves testified in Cambridge District Court that on July 8, 2012, Henriquez became violent and assaulted her in a car after she refused to have sex with him.
A jury in Cambridge District Court found him guilty. His lawyer Stephanie Soriano-Mills, the daughter-in-law of Dianne Wilkerson, asked that Henriquez be given probation, citing his clean criminal record.
Now, Henriquez sits in a cell at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, about 25 miles north of his district, which runs along the spine of Blue Hill Avenue, Dudley Street, and through Uphams Corner.
He is prisoner No. 121958, assigned to the orientation unit with 125 other inmates, who spend their first month there getting acclimated to the rules and expectations at the facility, jail officials said.
He has a cellmate and probably is in an 80-square-foot cell with a bed, small desk, and toilet. He has no access to the Internet or social media, the prison said.
Still, Henriquez’s Twitter account had two postings since Monday. One posting Tuesday urged supporters to contact House Speaker Robert DeLeo on behalf of Henriquez.
“If you live in Roxbury and feel that Carlos has helped the community, e-mail the speaker to share your support at Robert.Deleo@mahouse.gov,’’ the Twitter feed said.
Another posting Monday, seemed to offer inspiration.
“Even when the condition is critical, when the living is miserable, your position is pivotal,” the posting on Henriquez’s Twitter feed said.
Across his district, the reality that their lawmaker is in jail is starting to set in.
“I definitely think he should step down,’’ said Kim Miller, while waiting for her granddaughter on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Roxbury. “I feel like the charges came out. He was found guilty. To me, that’s it. Do we want someone working for us who has been convicted and in jail?”
Kante Thorpe, a Roxbury resident who describes himself as a close friend of Henriquez, also said Henriquez should step aside if the charges are true.
“If the woman was abused by Carlos, then I’m devastated to hear that,’’ said Thorpe. “I think there is a feeling of disbelief and denial. We love Carlos. He’s a good man.”