Rubin Hurricane Carter

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          On June 17, 1966, gunshots were fired at the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. The bartender and a customer were killed. Witnesses said the shooters were two black men who left the scene in a white car. Later, police saw two black men in a white car and arrested them. Only one problem -- they arrested the wrong men.

          The men arrested were middleweight boxer Rubin " Hurricane " Carter and John Artis.

          A barely-conscious shooting victim said that Carter and Artis were not the shooters.

          But police wanted the suspects to be "guilty". Carter was an associate of radicals like Malcolm X. Previously, in 1964, Carter had publicly and sharply criticized police following a police brutality case in which cops had killed a black boy.

          Artis wasn't a friend of Carter - Carter had just met him and was giving him a ride. Artis was a recent high school graduate, preparing to go to college.

          The grand jury decided not to indict the suspects, however Passaic County prosecutors continued working toward a prosecution.

          Prosecutors told Artis that they'd drop the charges against him if he'd agree to testify against Carter. Artis refused the deal, saying that he would not lie.

          "Mystery witnesses" appeared and claimed that they had seen Carter and Artis leaving the scene of the crime. The "witnesses" were criminals whom the police had pressured and also paid $10,000 each to testify against the suspects. Rubin Carter and John Artis were indicted.

          The trial began May 9, 1967. The prosecution had no murder weapon and couldn't suggest a motive. The jury convicted the two defendants of first degree murder.

          Hurricane Carter and John Artis went into New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, and waited for the day when they would be taken down the hall to be strapped into the electric chair.

          In 1972, in a 5 to 4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. Now Carter and Artis faced life in prison.

          In 1974 a New York Times reporter contacted the "witnesses." The "witnesses" admitted that their testimony was a lie fabricated due to pressure by the police, leniency deals, and the payment of money. This was reported in the New York Times on September 27, 1974.

          While in prison, and having already spent eight years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Rubin Hurricane Carter wrote a book called The Sixteenth Round . The full title of the book is The Sixteenth Round : From Number 1 Contender to #45472 . It has been out of print for years, but, as of August 2000, you can now order a new reprint of The Sixteenth Round from Amazon.com (Click here) .

          Numerous celebrities took up the case. Civil rights advocates Coretta Scott King , Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy called for a reversal of the conviction. Sports personalities Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, and a few movie and television actors such as Ellen Burstyn, appeared at protest demonstrations to appeal for compassion and justice.

          In 1975, folk and protest singer Bob Dylan wrote the song Hurricane -- "This is the story of Hurricane / The man the authorities came to blame / For something that he never done...." The song first appeared on the Desire album by Bob Dylan (9 songs -- song list and RealPlayer sound samples available at amazon.com). Here are amazon.com links for it:

Bob Dylan : Desire - audio CD, 56 minutes
Bob Dylan : Desire - cassette tape

          The governor of New Jersey refused to pardon Artis and Carter unless they admitted guilt. The two men maintained their innocence, and thus there was no pardon.

          Once again, Artis could have attained his freedom at any time if he would agree to lie and say that Carter was the killer, but Artis said he wouldn't lie, and so he stayed in prison.

          An old audio tape was found on which was heard the county prosecutor making racist generalizations about black people, and telling the police to prosecute the two suspects.

          On March 17, 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Rubin Carter and John Artis. They were released after spending more than ten years in prison.

          Later in 1976, prosecutors reopened the case, figuring that they could get a new conviction if they could now suggested a motive. They cited an earlier case in which a black bartender was killed, and suggested that the two black suspects had committed this shooting at the Lafayette Bar & Grill to get revenge on white people. One of the "mystery witnesses", who had told the New York Times reporter that he had fabricated his testimony in the first trial, reversed himself again - he now said that he saw Carter and Artis come out of the bar with guns in their hands. The jury convicted Artis and Carter, and the sentences were reinstated.

          In 1979 a 16-year-old boy in Brooklyn named Lesra Martin, whose nickname was Lazarus, read Carter's book. Lesra became Carter's penpal and visited him in prison. Lesra " Lazarus " visited with political activists in Toronto, a group who came to be called " The Canadians " in connection with this case. These activists became something like amateur lawyers, and searched for legal means to assist the defense. Most importantly, Lesra and the others provided moral support that uplifted Carter's spirit and gave him enough hope to survive. This story is told in a book entitled Lazarus and the Hurricane : The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin Hurricane Carter , by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton (paperback, 384 pages)   -- amazon.com link -- click here

          On November 7, 1985, a federal court ruled that the "racial revenge" motive suggested by prosecutors in the second trial was invalid, and that the prosecutors' latest gimmick was "deplorable." Judge H. Lee Sarokin said, "Rubin Carter's conviction was based on racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure." The judge issued a writ of habeas corpus, and the next day, November 8th, Carter and Artis were released from prison.

          Prosecutors went to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to get the convictions sustained, but the reversal by the federal court was upheld.

          In June of 1998, James S. Hirsch, a reporter for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, contacted Hurricane and asked him to work with him on a book. Carter was enthusiastic about the idea. Carter provided Hirsch with details about his life that are not available elsewhere, such as Carter's background as an Army veteran, Carter's assistance to the South African resistance movement, and much more. Hirsch used legal documents in addition to Carter's personal journal, personal letters, and conversations. Carter approved the entire text of the book and didn't asked Hirsch to change a word of it.

          James S. Hirsch wrote Hurricane : The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter (Hardcover, 345 pages, publication date January 3, 2000) (amazon.com link -- click here) Effective September 2000, the book is now available in paperback (click) Scheduled for publication in November 2000, a large-print hardcover edition .

          Hirsch personally considers the real topic of his book to be Carter's internal struggle to maintain his dignity and peace of mind through his 22 years of unjust imprisonment.

          Today, Rubin Hurricane Carter occasionally has speaking engagements. He has no bitterness whatsoever. He is jolly and his sense of humor is delightful. He jokes about the fact that he is portrayed by Denzel Washington in the recent movie The Hurricane. (Don't confuse this with an old black-and-white movie called The Hurricane made in 1937.)

          When Rubin Carter speaks, he is a goldmine of anecdotes and parables, occasionally quoting philosophers, literary classics, and ancient sources of wisdom like Zen Buddhist tales. He speaks mostly about love and human potential. Carter says that all human beings are one family -- there is nothing real about races or nationalities.

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