Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter




Rubin Carter grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, and was arrested and sent to the Jamesburg State Home for Boys at age 12 after he attacked a man with a Boy Scout knife. Carter claimed the man was a pedophile who had attempted to molest one of his friends, but he was found guilty. The alleged pedophile was white, Carter is not.
He escaped from Jamesburg before his six-year term was up and in 1954 joined the Army, where he served in a segregated corps and began training as a boxer. He won two European light-welterweight championships and in 1956 returned to Paterson with the intention of becoming a professional boxer. Almost immediately upon his return, police arrested Carter and forced him to serve the remaining 10 months of his sentence in a state reformatory.
In 1957, Carter was once again arrested, this time for purse snatching. He was tried, convicted, and spent four years in Trenton State, a maximum-security prison, for that crime...purse snatching. But he was a black man and the alleged purse probably belonged to a white woman.
After his release, Rubin decided to channel his considerable anger--towards his situation, racism, an unjust legal system, and the mistreatment by the police of Paterson’s African-American community--into his boxing. He turned pro in 1961, and immediately had a four fight winning streak--including two knockouts.
It was because of his lightning-fast fists that Carter earned the nickname “Hurricane,” and became one of the top contenders for the world middleweight crown. In December 1963, in a non-title bout, he beat then-welterweight world champion Emile Griffith in a first round KO, but subsequently lost his one shot at the title, in a 15-round split decision to reigning champion Joey Giardello in December 1964. Still, he was widely regarded as a good bet to win his next title bout.
As one of the most famous citizens of Paterson, Carter made no friends with the police, especially during the summer of 1964, when he was quoted in The Saturday Evening Post as expressing anger towards the occupations by police of black neighborhoods. His flamboyant lifestyle--Carter loved the city’s nightclubs and bars--and juvenile record rankled the police, as did the vehement statements he had allegedly made advocating violence in the pursuit of racial justice. In those days, in those kinds of places, Black men did not speak out--especially Black men with a criminal record, no matter how flimsy, and lightening fast fists.

While training for his next shot at the world middleweight title in October 1966, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was arrested for the June 17th triple murder of three patrons at the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson. Carter and John Artis had been arrested on the night of the crime because they fit an eyewitness description of the killers; the eyewitness saw “two Negroes in a white car.” However, the grand jury cleared them of any wrongdoing when the lone surviving victim failed to identify them as the gunmen.

In October, though, the state suddenly produced two new eyewitnesses, Alfred Bello and Arthur D. Bradley, who made positive identifications. During the trial, the prosecution produced little to no evidence linking Carter and Artis to the crime, a shaky motive--racially-motivated retaliation for the murder of a black tavern owner by a white man in Paterson hours before--and the only two eyewitnesses were petty criminals involved in a burglary.
It was later revealed that Bello and Bradley had received money and reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony. Nevertheless, on June 29, 1967, Carter and Artis were convicted of triple murder and sentenced to three life prison terms.

While incarcerated at Trenton State and Rahway State prisons, Carter continued to maintain his innocence by defying the authority of the prison guards, refusing to wear an inmate’s uniform, and becoming a recluse in his cell. He read and studied extensively, and in 1974 published his autobiography, The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472. The story of his plight attracted the attention and support of many luminaries; Bob Dylan visited Carter in prison and wrote “Hurricane” in Carter's honor. Even Muhammad Ali joined the fight to free Rubin Carter.

In late 1974, Alfred Bello and Arthur D. Bradley both, separately, recanted their testimony, saying they had lied in order to receive sympathetic treatment from the police. Two years later, after an incriminating tape of a police interview with Bello and Bradley surfaced and the New York Times ran an exposĂ© about the case, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled 7-0 to overturn Carter’s and Artis’s convictions. The two men were released on bail, but remained free for only six months—they were convicted once more at a second trial in the fall of 1976, during which Bello again reversed his testimony.

A model prisoner, John Artis, who refused a 1974 offer by police to release him if he identified Carter as the gunman, was released on parole in 1981. Although lawyers for Carter continued the struggle, the New Jersey State Supreme Court rejected their appeal for a third trial in the fall of 1982, affirming the convictions by a 4-3 decision. Carter resigned himself to the reality of his situation, and spent his time reading and studying; he had little contact with others. During his first 10 years in prison, his wife, Mae Thelma, stopped coming to see him at his own insistence, and they divorced in 1984.

In 1980, Carter met Lesra Martin, a teenager from Brooklyn who had read Carter's autobiography and initiated a correspondence. Martin was living with a group of Canadians who had formed an entrepreneurial commune and had taken on the responsibilities for his education. Before long, Martin’s benefactors--Sam Chaiton, Terry Swinton, and Lisa Peters--met and developed a strong bond with Carter.
The trio, along with Lesra Martin, started working for Carter's release. In the summer of 1983, they began working with Carter's legal defense team--Myron Beldock, Lewis Steel and Leon Friedman--in New York City to seek a writ of habeas corpus from U.S. District Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin.

On November 7, 1985, Sarokin handed down his decision to free Carter, stating that:
"The extensive record clearly demonstrates that [the] petitioners’ convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure. "

The state, however, continued to appeal Sarokin’s decision—all the way to the United States Supreme Court—until February 1988, when a Passaic County New jersey state judge formally dismissed the 1966 indictments of Carter and Artis and finally ended the 22-year long saga.

Upon his release, Carter moved to Toronto, into the home of the group that had worked to free him. He worked with Chaiton and Swinton on a book, Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, which was published in 1991.

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was given an honorary championship title belt in 1993 by the World Boxing Council and now serves as director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and the Alliance for Prison Justice in Boston.

Twenty-two years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He lost his career as a fighter. He lost his family. All because of his skin color, and a few police officers who used hate rather than the legal system to find a murderer.

9 comments:

Joy said...

I have that song "Hurricane" going through my mind now. I'm so glad there are organizations that work for justice. What a crime against Carter this was!

Did you see the movie with Denzel playing him?

Bob said...

I loved that movie Joy; that's one of the reasosn i wanted to read more about Carter.

Of course, any movie with Denzel is worth seeing....not simply because he's a handsome man, but because he is such a good actor.

Courtney said...

this story is sad, but it's even sadder when you realize how often this happens to this day to minorities. 232 people have been exonerated, proven innocent with DNA testing. 232 innocent people spent decades of their lives in prison, and that number rises almost daily.

Bob said...

I agree Courtney.
And the idea that some of these men and women have bene put to death is a travesty!

Anonymous said...

I was Rubin Carter's lawyer in 1984 for another matter, not related directly to his convictions. I spent hundreds of hours talking with Rubin on the phone and visiting him in two prisons. I came to know much about him--both from what he told me, and what he didn't--including his overall demeanor and credibility. I reached the conclusion that the man is a MASTER con man--a pathological liar and manipulator.

The only way that I could even possibly be MORE convinced of his absolute guilt for these three horribly vicious, racist murders of June 17, 1966, would be if I actually witnessed the events myself! Believe me the predominant racial injustice here was that perpetrated against Carter's victims!

Anonymous said...

I would surely like to know who this Anonymous person is!!

Anonymous said...

My heart pray for his happiness. I am thankful that his heart,will and soul never allowed the white man to change him. Mr. Carter is my hero! I pray that his life will be filled with peace ,real love, billions of dollars and happiness. His strong honor gives me hope for life!

Tunrayo Jackson said...

It really makes me sad the way he lost his wife and career just because he was black its really not fair and it's still happening today America should be moving forward not backwards. God should continue to bless America and have mercy on us

Anonymous said...

Watching the Denzel movie as we speak...anonymous lawyer...gtfoh