Rubin "Hurricane" Carter has died. Sympathetic obituaries say things like "wrongfully convicted" or "exonerated." But the black middleweight-title-contending boxer was neither.
Carter, in 1966, murdered three people. But Hollywood later made a movie, "Hurricane," in which Denzel Washington brilliantly portrayed Carter as a wrongfully convicted near-saint, hounded mercilessly by a determined, racist detective. Excellent moviemaking, but it adds more sludge to the widely held notion of the "racist criminal justice system" that supposedly "warehouses" black males for no reason other than wrong place, wrong time, wrong skin.
So, what really happened that night in Paterson, N.J., when three people were shot and killed? Why did Carter get prosecuted? Was Carter, as the media continue to say, an "innocent man" who was "wrongfully convicted"? Did the courts "exonerate" him?
In the film, Carter possesses near-sterling integrity, character pure and even noble. It shows Carter losing his middleweight title fight to champion Joey Giardello. The apparently bigoted judges gave the decision to Giardello, though the movie shows Carter pummeling him in the latter rounds.
One summer night in 1966, two black men burst into a bar in Paterson and killed three whites. In the movie, the police arrested Carter for virtually no reason. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. An evil detective, obsessed with nabbing Carter, spearheaded this travesty of justice, and Carter was convicted -- twice.
Now the facts. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a self-admitted street thug, having spent several years in juvenile detention for muggings. On the eve of his 1964 middleweight title fight, he bragged in the Saturday Evening Post about his savagery: "I stuck a man with my knife. I stabbed him everywhere but the bottom of his feet." Carter also said he and a friend "used to get up and put our guns in our pockets. ... Then we'd go out in the streets and start fighting -- anybody, everybody. We used to shoot at folks." While briefly out of prison and awaiting his second trial, Carter viciously beat the woman who had worked tirelessly to free him after the first conviction.
No evidence linking Carter to the crime?
One murder victim survived long enough to provide a sketch artist with a description. This never made it into the trial because authorities failed to obtain a "deathbed declaration" since they thought the victim would survive. She did not, and without the declaration, her testimony was not entered.