Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Even those who have no knowledge of Hurricane Carter have probably heard Dylan’s 1975 song about him or seen Denzel Washington playing Carter in a 1999 film, The Hurricane. Casting Denzel as Carter will probably give an idea as to where the film’s sympathies lie.

Carter died last Sunday of cancer, aged 76.

Are the depictions by Dylan and Denzel correct? Not everyone thinks so.

Some bits of interest about Carter, the song and the film ;

Some pics of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter”


The following news report on his death provides a convenient potted history:

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, wrongfully imprisoned US boxer whose story inspired Bob Dylan song, dead at 76 

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a US boxer made famous by a racially tinged wrongful murder conviction that landed him behind bars for 19 years, has died, an association he directed said. He was 76.  
Carter, who died of prostate cancer in Toronto on Sunday, was convicted twice of the 1966 murder of three people who were shot dead at a tavern in Paterson, New Jersey.  
The conviction, which cut short his illustrious boxing career as a fearsome middleweight contender, made him a pop culture cause célèbre.  
His story caught the attention of boxing great Muhammad Ali, and inspired Bob Dylan's 1975 song Hurricane
Decades later the 1999 film The Hurricane earned Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Carter.  
Carter was convicted along with his friend John Artis, who was also black, by an all-white jury in the death of two white men and a white woman. 
Carter was given a second trial in 1976 and convicted yet again. 
In 1985, Carter was exonerated by a US district court judge, H Lee Sarokin, who said the conviction had been "based on an appeal to racism rather than reason," according to the non-profit Chicago Innocence Project, which investigates wrongful convictions. 
After finally being released, Carter, a native of New Jersey, moved to Toronto. 
Carter's advocacy for the wrongly convicted  

From 1993 to 2005, he served as the executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted in Canada. 
The organisation said it was "deeply saddened" by the death of Carter, "a truly courageous man who fought tirelessly to free others who had suffered the same fate". 
Carter spent the latter part of his life advocating for the wrongly imprisoned. 
In February, he penned an article in the New York Daily News on that very topic.
To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all
- Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter
"I am now quite literally on my deathbed and am making my final wish to those with the legal authority to act," he said. 
"My single regret in life is that David McCallum of Brooklyn ... is still in prison," he said, before advocating for the man's release. 
"If I find a heaven after this life, I'll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years. 
"To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all." 
Carter, whose formal education ended in the eighth grade, led a childhood dotted with unruly incidents before enlisting in the army, where he first took up boxing, according to The New York Times. 
With an honourable discharge, he returned home and became caught up in petty crime before striking it big with his fierce and highly successful run in the boxing ring, The New York Times said.

Guilty or Not Guilty?

There are various analysts, authors and critics who maintain that Hurricane Carter was more complicit in the triple murders in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966 then depicted in the Denzel film and the Dylan song.

It is not my intention to provide in this post a detailed analysis of the evidence, only to note that there are competing views.


  • When in 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey granted Carter his freedom, he noted that the prosecution had been "predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure." He set aside the convictions and, after failed appeals by the prosecution, the prosecutors decided not to retry Carter a third time, deeming it impractical after 22 years. Carter’s release was not a finding of innocence.
  • Carter failed a lie detector test and, given a chance to re-take it after he'd been imprisoned for awhile, he refused. At his second trial, several witnesses who had given alibi evidence for Carrter admitted that they had been asked to lie for him. 
  • Some sites with comments on the guilt issue:

The Case Against Carter:

Top 10 Hurricane Carter myths:

Graphic Witness:

  • Amongst those who feel that the song and the movie distort the truth, the opinion seems to be “”probably guilty but denied a fair trial.” According to one commenter: “Truth be told there is a pretty fair amount of evidence Carter was guilty. However, the prosecution and police screwed up the case in several ways; they withheld things from the defense that they were supposed to disclose, relied on the testimony of criminals, and messed up the chain of custody of evidence. Quite honestly, I think Carter was probably guilty. But that ain't enough to convict.” 

Some other notes on Hurricane Carter:

  • Sent to a reformatory at age 14 for assault and armed robbery, he escaped, joined the army and was posted to West Germany where he began boxing whilst still in the army. 
  • In 1961, having been court martialled and discharged from the army, he was imprisoned. After release he began boxing professionally. Shorter than the average middleweight, he made up for it by aggression, strength and punching style, earning him the nickname “Hurricane”.
  • Carter was never a Number 1 contender, as suggested by Dylan’s song. The highest he reached was No 3 and was ranked 9th at the time of the 1966 murders. Although he had had a world title fight in 1964, his career was in decline in 1966.

The Dylan song:

Dylan meets Carter

  • The lyrics:

Pistols shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out "My God they killed them all"
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Three bodies lying there does Patty see
And another man named Bello moving around mysteriously
"I didn't do it" he says and he throws up his hands
"I was only robbing the register I hope you understand
I saw them leaving" he says and he stops
"One of us had better call up the cops"
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashing
In the hot New Jersey night.

Meanwhile far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are driving around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Patterson that's just the way things go
If you're black you might as well not shown up on the street
'Less you wanna draw the heat.

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the corps
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowling around
He said "I saw two men running out they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates"
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said "Wait a minute boys this one's not dead"
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men.

Four in the morning and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dying eye
Says "Wha'd you bring him in here for ? He ain't the guy !"
Yes here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Four months later the ghettos are in flame
Rubin's in South America fighting for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley's still in the robbery game
And the cops are putting the screws to him looking for somebody to blame
"Remember that murder that happened in a bar ?"
"Remember you said you saw the getaway car?"
"You think you'd like to play ball with the law ?"
"Think it might-a been that fighter you saw running that night ?"
"Don't forget that you are white".

Arthur Dexter Bradley said "I'm really not sure"
Cops said "A boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we're talking to your friend Bello
Now you don't wanta have to go back to jail be a nice fellow
You'll be doing society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and getting braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain't no Gentleman Jim".

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It's my work he'd say and I do it for pay
And when it's over I'd just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse.

All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The DA said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed.

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder 'one' guess who testified
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand ? 
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land 
Where justice is a game.

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That's the story of the Hurricane
But it won't be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world. 

  • Just as irrespective of guilt or innocence, the appeal court recognised the racism and unfairness inherent in the Carter trials, so Dylan’s lyrics embody poetry separate from the accuracy or otherwise of the subject matter:

To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The DA said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed.

  • Hear the song and see Carter pics by clicking on:

  • Dylan wrote the song after meeting Carter in prison. By that time Carter had been imprisoned for 10 years. 
  • Dylan had trouble writing the song until he thought of it as a movie and wrote the lyrics as a narrative.
  • Dylan was forced to re-record the song, with altered lyrics, after concerns were raised by Columbia’s lawyers that references to Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley as having "robbed the bodies" could result in a lawsuit. Neither Bello nor Bradley were ever accused of such acts.
  • The song was recorded in one take without edits. Hence you can hear a mistake at the 4.02 mark where the backing singer (Blakley) sings "Remember you saw you saw the getaway car" instead of "Remember you said you saw the getaway car/”

The Film:

Oops, wrong poster

From IMDB:

Some of the plot and character points fictionalised or ignored include: 
  • Carter was actually convicted of three muggings and served four years in prison prior to his murder trial 
  • Carter and Lisa Peters eventually married and later divorced 
  • In reality, there was no Det. Della Pesca 
  • Carter did not give a speech in the courtroom when his conviction was overturned and Lesra was not in attendance 
  • Carter was actually released from prison for 4 years between his two trial convictions 
  • Carter was dishonorably discharged from the military after four court-martials (after just 21 months' service) 
  • There actually was no evidence found that proved Carter's innocence. The reason his conviction was overturned was because the prosecution mishandled much of the evidence it had that Carter did commit the murders. When all the evidence from the real case is looked at, it seems more than likely that Carter was guilty of the murders, but got off on a technicality during his second trial. 
  • The Real Della Pesca, Vincent DeSimone, never met Carter before the Lafayette Grill incident. He also died in 1979, so he never met the Canadian couple, nor he attended the trial 1985.

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